Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lily-Of-The-Valley: Fragrant And Beautiful

Convallaria - Lily Of The Valley
There is a plant symbolizing sweetness and humility which according to legend sprang from the very tears of Eve that dropped upon the earth when she and Adam were sent away from the Garden of Eden.  Other legends tell that it sprouted from the shed blood of Sts. Leonard or George when battling dragons, or from the tears of The Blessed Virgin Mary as she wept at the foot of the Cross.  The same plant, sometimes pictured in Renaissance paintings, symbolizes the return of Christ when all is restored.

Scripture poetry mentions it:
I am a rose of Sharon,
A lily of the valleys.
As a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters. - Canticles, Chapter 2

Thus inspired, the beautiful blooms are sometimes used in bridal bouquets. Would you not be delighted to grow such a wonderful flower in your own garden?

That plant is Convallaria majalis (pronounced "con-vah-LAIR-ee-ah mah-JAY-liss").  Convallaria meaning "of the valley" signifies it's native habitat; majalis meaning "May" refers to its bloom time.  Common names include "Lily-Of-The-Valley", "May Bells" and "Our Lady's Tears."

Convallaria majalis is unique, being the only species in that genus.  It's native to temperate regions in Europe and parts of Asia.  One variety, C. majalis var. montana, may be native to the eastern U.S., but there is some question whether it is in fact a native or introduced.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is cultivated as a deciduous ground cover perennial.  Plant height is up to 9".  Foliage is medium to dark green, but may be variegated.  Sweetly fragrant, pendulous, bell-shaped white to pink flowers bloom for 2 to 3 weeks in late spring to early summer

It thrives in light shade in USDA climate zones 4 through 8 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5.  If exposed to direct sun at all, it should only be in the morning.  Consistent soil moisture is especially important during bloom period, but the plants are reasonably drought-tolerant during summer months.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is effective in container gardens, fragrance gardens, and naturalized in shade gardens and woodland settings were it combines well with ferns, Aquilegia, Helleborus and hostas.  The plant also has a long history of medicinal use, so gardeners who collect medicinal plants often include it in their collections.  Its rich history and legends, religious symbolism are other reasons for including it in a garden.

It's important to note that all parts of it should be considered very toxic, especially the berries, so treat it with appropriate caution.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is very easy to grow from bare-root rhizome divisions or "pips."  Plant them 3" deep and 4" to 6" apart. One method is to place the rhizomes on cultivated soil and cover them with 3" of topsoil.  Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.  When the site is to its liking, Lily-Of-The-Valley spreads rapidly.

It is rich in history, legend, and symbolism.  Fragrant to the nose and beautiful to the eye.  Yet, no significant pests or diseases afflict it.  Deer won't eat it.  Its cultural requirements are few.  For the romantic gardener, Lily-Of-The-Valley is a choice plant.

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bg_garden said...

Followed your Twitter to your blog. I was thinking ' late in the season' to be sharing lily of the valley. Your blog entry was wonderful. Can't wait to see what you blog next.
Happy Gardening!

GoGardenNow said...

Thanks for following and commenting, Bren. I just wanted to provide info about it.