#YouShouldGrowThis: Lily-of-the-valley is a valuable plant

CBC columnist, Lyndon Penner, writes about why the lily-of-the-valley is such a valuable plant and shares three tips to get your garden growing.

CBC gardening columnist, Lyndon Penner, on why this plant would make a great addition to your garden

The lily-of-the-valley may be poisonous if eaten, but it gives off a sweet fragrance and makes a great addition to any garden, writes CBC columnist Lyndon Penner. (Flickr/Randi Hausken)

The lily-of-the-valley is not a true species of lily, but it is a member of the lily family.

From cold places in Europe, lily-of-the-valley is extremely valuable as a garden plant for a number of reasons.

It is capable of growing in the darkest, shadiest of places where few other plants can grow. It will grow in a sunny spot too — it's very adaptable. It likes moisture and fertility, but can make do with much less.

It is extremely hardy and virtually never suffers any winterkill. It's also very long lived and the flowers appear early.

Usually in bloom in May, the flowers are gloriously fragrant and smell like no other blossom — they are fab for making tiny bouquets to scent the house. 

Lily-of-the-valley spreads rapidly and can actually choke out weeds. Amazing!

Many gardeners will whine and complain about this plant and say how aggressive and how invasive it is. This can be true in a bad location but it is extremely valuable in spots where nothing else wants to grow.

I often encourage gardeners to find some corner of the garden where they can plant this little gem and let it spread to its heart's content. This plant is worth growing just for the fragrance alone. 

If they are pollinated, sometimes the blossoms give way to red-orange berries in late summer. It provides a lush, thick carpet of green in parts of the yard where lawn and other perennials would not want to grow, such as between your house and the neighbours. It's marvelous!

A few cultivars exist, but mostly what you are growing is just the plain species.

"Fortin's Giant" has larger flowers than normal and grows a bit taller, making it good for cutting. It also flowers for up to a week longer. Meanwhile, "Rosea" has miserable, small flowers that are dirty-pink in color and lacking in scent. Don't bother with it. "Aureo-variegata" is quite slow to spread and expensive. While it has beautiful golden stripes on the new growth, this fades over the summer.

Note: You should also be aware that lily-of-the-valley is very poisonous if eaten.

Here are 3 #YouShouldDoThis tips for gardeners:

1. Weed, weed, weed

If you don't get out there and pull your weeds when they're still small, you certainly won't feel like doing it when they're big! Deal with the weeds before they get out of control.

2. Compost

Compost has a rich, earthy scent that many longtime gardeners find quite invigorating. Your average cup of compost is home to about 200 million beneficial bacteria, who have the important job of making soil a great home for plant roots. 

3. Sharpen Your Tools 

Would you be pleased if your heart surgeon attempted to operate using a butter knife? I think you'd be (rightly) quite afraid! It's the same with your trees and shrubs — you're doing surgery, so make sure your tools are clean and sharp. 


Lyndon Penner


Lyndon is a gardening expert and columnist with CBC. Follow him on Twitter at @CBCgardener.


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