The Ultimate Guide to Lily of the Valley
Fall for these small and sensationally-scented flowers.
Take a walk through a woodland in spring and you’ll see lily of the valley popping up pretty much everywhere. Undeniably enchanting and gorgeously fragrant, they also make great cut flowers and easy garden plants – and that’s where this ultimate guide can help. Read on to discover how to care for them, what you’ll need to make a lily of the valley bouquet and some varieties you can grow yourself.
An introduction to Lily of the Valley
With a delicate display of bell-shaped flowers, lily of the valley would be a vision of floral innocence if not for the fact it’s poisonous to humans and animals. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow or show them, but it’s important to take care when handling them.
Their botanical or scientific name ‘Convallaria Majalis’, ‘convallaria’ meaning ‘valley’ and ‘majalis’ meaning ‘May’, nods to the springtime show they put on. And what a show it is. White (sometimes pink) flowers hang from gloriously green stems and lush foliage creates a carpet across the surface – each plant reaching up to 25cm high and spreading around 30cm wide.
While a favourite of woodlands across the Northern hemisphere, lily of the valley today also grows well in shady areas of a home garden and makes a great plant for pots too.
Lily of the Valley meaning and symbolism
Happiness, prosperity and contentment, the lily of the valley symbolises renewal and hope, linking fittingly to its springtime blooming. Many royal brides have chosen lily of the valley in their bouquets to bring them luck – from Queen Victoria to Catherine, Princess of Wales. Traditionally, newlyweds also plant them in their garden to bring years of happiness.
The symbolism of lily of the valley can be traced back to Greek mythology, with the god Apollo creating a covering of them for his nymphs to walk on. A significant symbol in the Bible too, the story states that Eve cried tears of lily of the valley when she was banished from the Garden of Eden. Many believe they also represent Mary’s tears after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Lily of the Valley facts
Lily of the Valley has been the national flower of Finland since the late 60s. Here it grows naturally throughout the country’s many woodlands and is called ‘kielo’ linked to the Finnish word ‘kieli’ meaning ‘tongue’, referring to its leafy foliage.
It’s got a French connection too. There’s even a whole day dedicated to it on May 1: La Fête du Muguet. It’s thought to have its roots back in 1560 when King Charles IX was given a bouquet for good luck. A few hundred years on it became a symbol of harvest and springtime work when people would sell them without needing to pay tax. Even today, French residents can sell them tax-free on this day.
Don’t be fooled by its name, it’s not actually a lily. It’s part of the asparagaceae plant family which unsurprisingly includes asparagus.
Types of Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley ‘Prolificans’
Lily of the Valley 'Grandiflora'
Lily of the Valley ‘Rosea’
Lily of the Valley ‘Hardwick Hall’
When to plant Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley can be grown from crowns, bulbs or bare root plants (from seed is possible, but much trickier and time consuming). You can find all these in garden centres or online, depending on the time of year.
For crowns, start them off in March in individual pots (they struggle to grow in soggy weather, so you want to dry and avoid them toughing out a rainy winter). Bulbs can be planted straight into the ground in the autumn, they need a nice chilly winter to prepare them to flower. As for bare roots, these are more established plants which have a small root system already so they can go in the ground year round.
If you already have lily of the valley growing in your garden, save money by dividing them from September to November. Dig up a clump and gently separate them into smaller clumps by teasing their roots apart or cutting them from each other. Pop them in the ground at the same depth and in the same conditions as your other plants.
How to care for Lily of the Valley
As low maintenance as they come, just a little care will help lily of the valley grow even stronger.
Where to put lily of the valley
Lily of the valley is known to thrive in covered areas and shaded garden spaces. They’ll happily grow in all soil types (acid, neutral or alkaline), and they don’t mind growing beneath other plants, like roses or shrubs. One watch out: they can be invasive, spreading far and wide if you let them, which can look spectacular if that’s what you’re after, but if you'd rather a small patch just pop them in a pot.
How often to water lily of the valley
Water new plants every week for the first five to six weeks. Once fully grown they won’t need much watering, just keep an eye on whether the soil is looking and feeling dry (especially if they’re in pots).
You don’t really need to feed lily of the valley. A somewhat self-sufficient plant, they’ll usually get all they need from fallen leaves and organic matter around them. If you’re growing them in pots, you can give them a slow-release feed in spring.
No need to deadhead either. If you want to you can cut away dead flowers or stalks, but the foliage will stay gloriously green throughout the summer making up for their fading blooms.
When does Lily of the Valley bloom?
Creating a Lily of the Valley bouquet
Elegant and exquisitely shaped, lily of the valley is often used in bridal bouquets. To bring some of that charm to a home display, follow our step-by-step guide.
First, think about your colour scheme, the scent you want your bouquet to have and the blooms that are available right now. Peonies, ranunculus and lavender look great with lily of the valley, but you can choose whatever you like. Depending on how big your bouquet is, two or three lily of the valley stems should be enough.
Start with your lily of the valley stems in the middle, working in your complementary flowers around them. To create a beautiful, natural shape, rotate the bouquet as you go.
When you're happy with the bouquet, tie your stems together with floral wire or twine.
Add the finishing touches. Give your blooms any extra embellishment you fancy, we like recycling ribbons.