December 17, 2007

Forcing Lily of the Valley Pips

Lily of the Valley Pips arrive via post

I am fascinated with things that fall out of favor, culturally and horticulturally. The list of forgotten plant favorites is long, fragrant bouquets of Parma violets scented that scented the air of railroad cars at the turn of the century, bowls of Anemones that once were the traditional Christmas flower, long before the Pointsetia made its way into cultuvation in the 1920s. Camellias, Chrysanthemums, and perhaps most lost of all, bulb pans of forced Lilly of the Valley. Once commonplace, featured in ads in gardening magazines right through the 1960's, for whatever reason, the tradition of ordering single plants of Convallaria majalis, known as Pips in the trade, fell out of fashion in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As a child I rememebered seeing full page ad's in my uncles Horticulture magazines, and I often dreamed of someday finally having money so that I could order them to grow in the greenhouse that I, of course, would someday build and own. Well, the day is finally here, except finding a source for Pips was more difficult than I imagined. Thanks to White Flower Farm, pips are available, I suspect that they are the last retailer in the US to carry them, and although a bit expensive, I believe it will be worth it. Most likely these pips are from a source overseas, either in Germany or the Netherlands. The only source I found was a Dutch wholesaler, and I would bet that they supply White Flower Farm.

The pips arrive safely wrapped in newspaper, and the simple procedure of planting them in moist soil is as easy as potting up paperwhite bulbs. The pips are large, not even remotely similar to pips dug from your home garden. These are at least four times as large, and have already been vernalized (kept cold in a false winter for a period of 16 weeks). All that needs to be done is to plant, water and wait.

15 Pips we're potted into a 10 inch bulb pan, watered and places on a plunge bed in the winter sun. The cool temps and moist air of the cold greenhouse will ensure sturdy growth and be early January, will deliver the fragrant white bells that say "june wedding' during the darkest days of the year. I can't wait!


  1. Anonymous4:29 AM

    Just wanted to pass along that it works to force your home-grown pips. The autumn before last, I had to dig up a lot of convallaria that had spread too far. Couldn't bear to compost the pips (having fond memories of those same ads you mention).

    So I kept the biggest, fattest pips, trimmed the roots back to manageable size, and kept them in a plastic bag (fairly dry and washed of soil) for a couple months in the fridge. After potting, they were grown on a sunny windowsill, the one where I keep the window cracked in winter. This is more work than buying them, but it's free and the results were good. Every pip bloomed sweetly. Take care.

  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Hi, A great wholesale source for Lily of the valley pips as well as a great many more bulbs, corms, tubers, and perennial plants; is Netherland Bulb. www.netherlandbulb.com
    You do have to order 100 pips though! You can always sell off the rest!

  3. Anonymous11:34 AM

    The Modern Family Garden Book published 1948 by Roy E. Biles has quite a bit of information on winter forcing Lillies of the Valley. The book also has lots of other good stuff on old time houseplants, etc. and can be purchased on Ebay pretty cheaply. We have these growing around the SE corner of our house and they are awesome! They do spread like crazy though in Zone 5 but are attractive except for the end of summer they get a little scraggly. Have never tried to force them but hope to someday. They smell great though.

  4. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Spring hills sells pips, I just bought 6, and they were pretty cheap. http://springhillnursery.com/

    I only just planted them today, but I hope they grow ok :)

  5. I’ve seen them at HoneDepot but don’t know how successful they’d grow as forced bulbs


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