Everyone has a favorite flower. While roses, hydrangeas, and peonies get a lot of attention (they are gorgeous, afterall), one of the South’s most beautiful flowering plants is the Lily of the Valley. And one of my first memories of it stems from a child’s perfume bottle I bought at Jackson’s 5&10 in Winona, MS when I was 8-years-old. I’ve loved this fragrance and flower ever since. Here’s some need-to-know growing and caring advice.
How to spot this beauty: This graceful, creeping ground cover blooms in spring and grows about six to eight inches high. The arching stems bear small, nodding, delightfully sweet-scented, waxy white bell-shaped flowers. The flowers last only two to three weeks, but its broad, glossy green deciduous leaves are attractive throughout growing season. Bright red berries may appear in autumn; they, like the rest of the plant, are poisonous.
Selections include ‘Aureo-variegata,’ with yellow-striped leaves; ‘Fortin’s Giant,’ to 12-15 in. high with extra-large blooms; ‘Prolificans,’ a double-flowered form; and C. m. rosea, with light pink blooms. All are charming in woodland gardens; use as carpet between camellias, rhododendrons, pieris, or under deciduous trees or high-branching, not-too-dense evergreens.
Where to grow: Best in Upper and Middle South. In Lower South, needs full shade and moist, rich soil that does not dry out. Can become invasive where well adapted.
How to care for Lily of the Valley: Plant clumps or single rhizomes (commonly called pips) in fall before the soil freezes. Give rich soil with ample humus. Set 1 ½ in. deep; space clump 1-2 ft. apart. Spread 1-in. layer of leaf mold, peat moss, or ground bark over bed each year in fall.
Large, pre-chilled pips are available in December and January and can be potted for bloom indoors in bright light. After bloom, plunge pots in ground in cool, shaded area. When dormant, remove plants from pots and plant in garden; or wash soil off pips, place in clearly labeled plastic bags, and store in vegetable bin of refrigerator until time to repot in December or January.