Lily-of-the-valley

This hardy herbaceous perennial grows from a horizontal creeping root and has waxy, scented bell-shaped flowers on arching stems. It is small but can spread, making it ideal ground cover and for cutting.

Suitable site and soil. Lily-of-the-valley prefers light shade but can spread into full sun and thrive perfectly. It will grow in all soils but does not like bad drainage or the stickiest clays.

Cultivation and care. Plant the crowns in autumn with the points just showing either singly 10cm – 4in apart, or in small clumps of crowns about 20cm – 8in apart. Avoid dry places and mulch every spring with leaf-mould or garden compost. It may 46 refuse to grow in the first place you try it, and even in the second. This is typical; persist until it takes. You can force convallaria for early flowering by lifting clumps in autumn and separating the crowns. Put them into pots and keep them in a cold frame or greenhouse until early spring, then bring them into a room with a fairly constant temperature of 21°C – 68°F.

Propagation. Divide between late autumn and early spring, lifting, splitting and replanting in dry, frost-free weather. Alternatively, seed can be sown thinly as soon as it is ripe.

Recommended varieties. ‘Fortin’s Giant’ has large flowers which are beautifully scented. ‘Rosea’ has lilac-pink flowers and does not spread nearly as widely as many other types. Variegata’ has striped leaves.

Pests and diseases. Plants in good soils are trouble free.

A PRETTY LITTLE POSY

When you are picking lilies-of-the-valley, pull the stems rather than cut them. They will last well in water. Pull up some of the leaves, too, to make a dainty arrangement, for a table centrepiece. Keep them away from glaring, artificial light.

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