Lily of the Valley

It is beautiful, it smells good and it can be seen everywhere on the first of May. What is it? The lily of the valley of course! This flower, emblematic of spring, never ceases to delight our senses. But do you know its fascinating history and why it is associated with the first of May? Learn more about what the Lily of the Valley has represented over the ages and get some practical advice on how to care for the plant properly.

  • Long before these pretty white bells were associated with the first of May, they had their own place and meaning going back to ancient times. The Greek god Apollo is said to have used the lily of the valley to cover the ground that the nine nymphs had to walk on to reach Mount Parnassus. The Celts were also charmed by this spring flower. They saw it as a symbol of renewal and happiness after the long winter nights.

    It is during the Renaissance that the tradition as we know it today was established. The tradition of offering lilies of the valley on May 1st is said to have come from a royal initiative. Rumour has it that the young Charles IX, who was visiting the south of France with his mother, Queen Catherine de Medici, was given lily of the valley by the knight Louis de Girard de Maisonforte. He kept this beautiful gesture in mind and decided to establish a tradition once he was crowned in 1560. Since then, all the ladies of the royal court have received a sprig of lily of the valley at the beginning of May, as a good luck charm.

    It was not until the end of the 19th century that this tradition was extended to all social classes.

  • It so happens that Labour Day is also celebrated on 1 May. However, to understand how the lily of the valley came to be associated with this workers’ holiday, we need to look at the historical context.

    It all began in France in 1890, when the working class took up the habit of demonstrating on May 1st to assert their rights. The protesters’ demands were clear: working days not exceeding 8 hours should be standardised.

    They first marched with a red rosehip in their lapel. This flower was later replaced by the lily of the valley, known as the symbol of the Renaissance.

    In 1940, the Vichy regime made this labour day official. May Day became a public holiday, during which workers did not work but were still paid. To this day, some people also sell bouquets of lily of the valley on the side of the road, although this practice is normally prohibited the rest of the year.

  • The lily of the valley, scientific name “Convallaria Majalis”, is a flower that belongs to the lily family and symbolises the arrival of spring. It is easily recognisable by its many small white bells and its intoxicating smell. It is highly coveted by perfumers who have tried for centuries to accurately reproduce the special scent of this flower.

    Lily of the valley is a perennial plant, which means that it lives through the winter and can bloom again in the spring. It grows wild in undergrowth, sheltered from the hot sun.

    If you would like to find lily of the valley while out in nature, plan your excursions starting in April. You will have until early summer to see and smell them. Some plants can be over 30 centimetres high! But don’t be fooled by its beauty, this plant is highly toxic. It is therefore not advisable to touch the flowers.

  • Do you want to smell this charming scent every day throughout the spring? It’s true that a vase filled with sprigs of lily of the valley immediately brightens up a room. In order to make the best possible choice, trust your five senses.

    Whether you decide to pick some directly in the forest or to buy your sprig from a roadside vendor or a florist near you, here are some tips on how to choose lily of the valley:

    A healthy lily of the valley stands upright, its stems and leaves should be strong ;

    • They should be a nice green colour ;
    • The bells should be bright white ;
    • A beautiful lily of the valley should not be beaded ;
    • A sprig of lily of the valley is attractive when it is full of flowers, so choose a sprig with at least ten flowers per stem. The most superstitious among you will even prefer a sprig with thirteen flowers. It is said that this number brings good luck!
    • Finally, you will know if the sprig of lily of the valley is made for you if it passes the smell test.
  • To keep the lily of the valley sprigs you have bought for as long as possible, you need to know the specificities of this flower. How does it bloom in the wild? As mentioned earlier, lily of the valley is an undergrowth plant. This means that it grows in an environment with little exposure to sunlight, usually in a mild and humid climate.

    The lily of the valley is a climacteric flower, i.e. it releases a high amount of ethylene, like the mimosa or the peony. This makes the flower more ephemeral and therefore requires special care.

    Here are some tips to help you keep your lily of the valley sprigs as long as possible:

    • Lily of the valley should not be touched;
    • Do not display it in front of a window, where the sun reach it;
    • Choose a more secluded spot, away from draughts;
    • Never leave a bunch of flowers next to a basket of fruit (indeed, many fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, apricots and avocados also give off a high quantity of ethylene and thus risk accelerating the wilting of the lily of the valley);
    • Water should be at room temperature and ideally changed every two days;
    • Do not smoke near the lily of the valley, the smell of tobacco is harmful to it;
    • Also be careful to keep this flower away from curious people. Children and animals may be attracted by its sweet smell, but bear in mind that they should not come into contact with lily of the valley as it is poisonous.
  • Here is a piece of information that should make you happy : if you enjoy lily of the valley and look forward to spring each year to have some in your home, you should know that yes, you can replant your lily of the valley, under certain conditions.

    When choosing your lily of the valley, make sure you take sprigs that have been picked with their roots or buy lily of the valley in a pot. Indeed, the presence of rhizomes will allow you to replant these flowers efficiently in a window box or directly in your garden.

    If you decide to plant your lily of the valley on the ground, remember that its roots spread quickly. Like bamboo, lily of the valley has very active rhizomes that like to take up space. Therefore, you should choose a place where it can grow without running into other plants.

    The end of summer is the best time to plant. Once you have done this, keep an eye on it, as it must not run out of water. Your lily of the valley plant will then last through the winter and flower again in the spring. This perennial plant will bloom every year with the arrival of warmer days, to perfume its surroundings and delight bypassers.

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