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Too Much of a Good Thing…

lily of the valley

Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. We moved into our home 36 years ago, and I’ve been gardening ever since. We have until recently had a fully-shaded yard, and I have tried pretty much everything for shade at one time or another.

An early and successful attempt was with Lily-of-the-Valley, Convallaria majalis. This was a mistake. It’s nice when it’s in bloom in April for a week or two, as the entire back yard smells deliciously of Lily-of-the-Valley. Let’s call it LOV. (My first gift to impress a girl was made when I was about thirteen and I bought a gift set of White Shoulders perfume at the local drug store, and one of the components of the scent is LOV. It did not result in a date.) When flowering ends and the drier part of summer arrives, at least in my yard the foliage turns an unattractive mottled brown or dries up completely. Not a great look.

When I started learning about invasive plant species, plants that invade “natural” areas like forests and parks, LOV turned up in the list for my native state of Wisconsin. Once I was aware of it, I noticed it here and there on my occasional walks in the woods when home visiting relatives. I also found out that it had a reputation for being aggressive in the garden (we call them garden “thugs”). I am here to tell you that “thug” it is. The original three plants have spread to cover about 500 square feet in the lower, more moist part of the yard. No wonder the yard has a nice fragrance, and I have plenty to cut and bring inside, too.

lily of the valley
lily of the valley

The nicer the soil, the faster it will spread—save your kindness for plants that deserve it. If you are going to grow LOV, try to contain them with a barrier sunk into the ground. Better yet, if you want a fragrant plant for varying degrees of shade, I suggest you try something else, like a native deciduous azalea. Or a daphne, hyacinths, lilies, or a Koreanspice viburnum.

Larry Hurley – Behnke’s retired Horticulturist, writer and editor

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