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.
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.
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