Love/Hate: Lily of the Valley

LilyoftheValleyOh, sure. They look cute, their nodding white flowers, crimped and curled at the edges, like fairies’ cloche hats. In May, they shake those little bells, and perfume fills the air. Plus, they’ll grow anywhere, in sun, shade, wet or dry, with minimal attention. What’s not to like?

Grrrrr. Lily of the valley. Convallaria. Muguet de bois. Don’t be deceived by the gentle-sounding names. These are thugs. Velociraptors in pretty-scented sheep’s clothing.

They gallop across light, sandy, root-clogged soil like mine, charging through its fluffy topping of mulch, like the hungry, invasive critters they are.

A neighbour planted a few lily of the valley pips – the sweet name for their growing stem is another deception – in her front yard. A few years later, they’d spread wall to wall. Wall. To. Wall.

I must admit, I’ve been seduced by their positive traits, and have let my lily of the valley run wild. In fall, the floppy leaves on my expanding “patch” always resemble a very bad hair day, mixed metaphors be damned. But the promise of those pretty, perfumed flowers in spring stops me from doing them in.

But this year: Enough. I advanced, eyes flashing, armed with my Cobrahead. This little garden tool with the scary name has a great story. I admit to being a little skeptical of its claims when I first received mine as a sample. However, I’m now a fan, having used it very successfully for winkling out weeds in the garden. It proved to be just the weapon for a job like this.
The cobra head of the Cobrahead

The sharp blade on this hand weeder ate through surface roots and hooked up the lily of the valley pips where they lurked. I didn’t have to deeply disturb tree roots by digging. And it worked frighteningly well. From one six-by-six foot patch (two-by-two metres) I yanked out nearly half a yard-bag of pips.

No, I didn’t give them away. I’m a good neighbour. And I didn’t compost them. They can’t be trusted in a cool compost pile. Besides, despite my carnage, I have a sneaky feeling that more will pop up to woo me next spring. This time, my heart will be hardened – after I gather a nice bouquet.


  1. Hi Helen,

    I grow some of the variegated form in a pot. They put on a nice show in the spring and the leaves look good through to the early summer, when they get shunted away out of site.

  2. Ah … loved this post and love this flower (my mother's favorite) and why I let them roam in inconspicuous areas both here at home (rip out where unsightly) and at the lake where like unruly children, run wild!

  3. I did not know that they were that bad. I've never grown them and I've only ever seen them growing in one spot my whole life. A garden about six feet by six feet and in the 15+ years I've walked past this garden they've never grown past the little corner they occupy.

    One time at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show Cobrahead gave me one to give away to a gardener in my area. I walked home with it in my hand because I didn't have a bag. I've never felt safer walking late at night in my neighborhood than that night.

  4. Helen, I almost planted Lily of the Valley in my new flower bed, but didn't because I ran out of room. I've been feeling bad that I didn't manage to fit them in — but maybe it was a good thing! -Jean

You might also like