May Birth Flower: Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the Valley flowers newly opening

Convallaria majalis is starting to bloom away now, fittingly around my birthday, which makes sense since it is known as the birth flower for May.  Lily of the Valley represents humility, chastity, sweetness and happiness.  Did I mention all parts of the plant are poisonous?

An incredibly easy plant to grow; spreading slowly by rhizomes when it’s found a happy combination of soil and exposure–which in my garden is shady and dry.  In some parts of the country it’s considered weedy and invasive.

Freshly unfurled leaves glow in early evening sunshine

It’s propensity for dry shade makes it a good candidate for naturalizing under the dense cedar, hemlock and Doug firs that compete for soil moisture in my woodlands.  It seems that Lily of the Valley are better prepared than other herbaceous perennials to stand the competition from greedy trees when the soil texture is fine and rich with humus.  About 15 years ago I planted 10 or so pips, as the starts are called, and now the colony covers about 50 square feet, mingling with ferns and starflower (Trientalis borealis).   It’s been a modest growth, but pretty remarkable none-the-less considering they have been given absolutely no care–neither fertilizer nor water.

Sweetly scented lily of the valley–symbol of humility & sweetness

This is one of the diminutive May flowers delivered by April showers that can easily escape notice in the garden.  When they flower, I gather a fist full of the short racemes to appreciate indoors.  Their sweet fragrance is a bonus when they brighten my kitchen windowsill or bathroom sink in one of the tiny vases I have collected just for flowers whose charms loom large despite their small stature.

My friend Kathleen just showed me a variegated Lily of the Valley she finally found for sale after first seeing it in England–its a delight with its fittingly delicate stripes.  Hopefully hers will take as well as mine did and she’ll have some to share with me in a few years.  Perhaps that Convallaria can be easily shared among gardeners is how it came to represent happiness.

© Colleen Miko, 2012

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is a freelance garden writer and speaker who regularly writes "The Perennial Bookworm" where she reviews garden and natural science books, as well as a regular contributor to "WestSound Home & Garden Magazine" on a variety of horticulture topics.
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4 Responses to May Birth Flower: Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

  1. Louise says:

    Hi birthday girl. We just planted some lily of the valley last night under the shade of the big leaf maple mixed in with some Western trillium. Now I will forever associate it with thoughts of you!

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