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You're not alone. Although they have a reputation for spreading it took me 3 goes to get them started.
I bought my lily of the valley from poundland as a bare root and put it in a pot as I've heard it can be very invasive. Nothing happened the first year and I was advised to leave it alone until the following year.
It's now grown into a nice clump and comes up every year. Mine have never been fed as they enjoy poor soil conditions and like to kept on the dry side, I agree they are tricky to get going but are well worth the effort . Mine seem to thrive on neglect.
Thanks all - I'll just keep trying! Our soil here is very stoney clay, very wet through the winter but dries out quickly/cracks in summer. First year in this property so the entire garden needs attention!
I have fond memories of lilly of the vally from when I was a child - my dad grew a lovely clump of them under a Forsythia.