There was a luxuriant stand of it in my grandparent’s garden. It fascinated me as a child and I would be hard put to say whether the tiny waxy bells or the scent – rich, fresh and sweet all at once – attracted me most.

When I started my own garden, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) was one of the signature flowers that I had to have – along with actual lillium, iris, tulips and roses. I suppose I thought I could grow a florist’s display window in my shady, mainly-courtyard space. With many false starts, I did eventually grow most of these plants, though not exactly as I had envisioned.

Strangely, the lily of the valley I planted back then did nothing – at least where I put it. Years later, it finally came up in a different spot and continues to appear at this time every spring. It obligingly prefers the edge closest to a walkway. When the flowers are done, I pull out the leaves that are getting in the way of other plants, though I know this does nothing to stop its mild spread.

Though it doesn’t yield natural extracts, perfumers can create spot-on renditions of lily of the valley. Comme des Garcons makes a nice one but there are many others. 

Sadly, this iconic flower, with its rich historic and mythological  associations, has been taken up by the braying, native-only, “don’t plant this” brigade. I regularly read cries of “Kill it” and “get rid of it” posted in our local gardening group. 

True, it does spread. So do lots of things. But I find a big gap between true aggressors like lesser celandine and the mild romping of LOTV. It’s not on any local invasive species list that I can find- even if it were, as always, I simply can’t understand the hysteria.

So now, the childhood memories that rise to the surface when I see these flowers have become only slightly tinged by social media vilifications

In the end, I have to pity those who seem mainly to garden out of fear and need to share that fear with other gardeners. 

It seems lily of the valley is continuing its historic power to evoke emotions into the 21st century.