Convallaria majalis, also known as lily of the valley is the plant we will be focusing on this week. It is a perennial plant which produces beautiful, fragrant, dainty white bell flowers from late spring to early summer, notably at the start of May, which is why I thought it would be a good focus for this weeks blog. It is noted by the Woodland Trust as an ancient woodland indicator, however it is not always a reliable indicator due to some plants having escaped from cultivation which are now growing in areas other than ancient woodland.
The botanical name for lily of the valley ‘”Convallaria” originates from the Latin word “convallis”, meaning “valley”. This likely refers to its occurrence in valleys due to the soil quality and shade found there. Perhaps it was chosen due to its common name being ‘lily of the valley’?
La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day)
In France, every year on 1st May this holiday is celebrated by buying loved ones bouquets or potted plants of Convallaria majalis known as “muguet” in French. This is thought to bring good luck and be a token of appreciation for the loved one. Unsurprisingly this is a busy time of year for florists in France.
Despite their beauty, lily of the valley plants are surprisingly easy to grow and maintain. They are very resilient and will survive through a British winter. They will even cope with dry woodland shade. However, they prefer partial shade with fertile, well-drained, moist, soil. They grow well in heavy clay, chalky or sandy soils but will suffer in boggy and pure clay soils. Lily of the valley makes a great ground cover plant, noted for their ability to prevent soil erosion. They will also do well in containers should you decide to grow them in pots.
The delightful flowers of lily of the valley are a great source of pollen for bees, the foliage is a valuable food source for various species of lepidoptera larvae, such as Grey Chi moths. Leaf beetle adults and larvae will also make good use of the leaves as food. While the red berries produced are toxic to mammals, they are eaten many birds who are attracted to the colour of the berries and act as the plants seed carrier by depositing the seeds contained within the berries when they defecate away from the parent plant at a later time.
Whether you want to grow them for their sheer beauty, the enticing fragrance, or to attract wildlife to your garden, why not give Convallaria majalis a go.