Garden Notes: Hopes are high for Lily of the Valley, forced indoors

My plan is to have the house perfumed by Lily of the Valley when the evergreen fragrance of the Christmas tree floats out the door with the tree.

As I tried to walk off my Thanksgiving turkey coma, I noticed a few emerging Lily of the Valley pips. Each pip looked like a potato eye and was a soft pink color. I dug out a handful and was surprised at how deep the rhizomes were rooted in the soil.

I potted them and set them close to the living room French doors where they get indirect light from all sides and a little draft from under the doors.

Experts say Lily of the Valley is one of the easiest spring bulbs to force indoors. They say to trim the long roots to encourage them to take up water.

I’d taken extra care to get those long roots, so I didn’t cut them back. I did put them in a tall pot, so I’m hoping that negates the need for a trim.

I tried to plant them at about the same level they were in the garden — just poking above the soil. The how-to directions advise keeping the soil evenly moist because the pips grow so fast, they crave water as they try to push out their leaves.

Bringing outside flowers indoors is called forcing, and for good reason. High room temperatures and low humidity don’t come close to replicating spring weather, and the jolt can shock the bulbs. Our thermostat is set at 68 degrees, but the winter sun can raise the temperature to the low 70s. For Lily of the Valley, low 60s temperatures are ideal.

I’m hoping that little bit of draft under the doors will balance out the dry heat.

I really should have trimmed those roots because so far, I’ve got nothing.

Lily of the Valley, or Conval­laria majalis, is a member of the Asparagaceae family. Some cultivars like Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriate’ have variegated leaves, others like Convallaria majalis “Rosea” have tiny bell shaped flowers, flushed pink.

Growing outdoors, it has been called “the worst of all delicious weeds.” It’s fussy about where it wants to be and, in days gone by, was often found growing in the dark, cool and shady environment where privies were also planted.

Gardeners used to soak the flowers in water for a month; the liquid was used as a cure for gout or “weak memory.” Burying the bottled concoction in an anthill was thought to make the potion more powerful.

Today, the whole plant, decocted or not, is considered poisonous.

Soldiers fighting in France in May 1910 marveled at the woods between the Chemin des Dames and the Aisne: “There was a dense carpet of green and white so scenting the air as to dominate the smells of the shell-devastated area less than half a mile away.”

Let’s hope that some May soon the fragrance of the wood lilies of France envelope our whole world.


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