Lily of the Valley: birthflower for May....
My Scottish grandmother, ever glamorous, always used to keep on her bedside dressing table a box of Haigh's dark chocolates, a bottle of Green Ginger Wine and a tin of Yardley's Lily of the Valley talc, amongst the bottles of perfume and Ponds face cream. She lived to be a few weeks short of her 100th birthday, and perhaps it was the three chocolates and a small glass of ginger wine each evening which was part of the secret.
Or perhaps it was the evening ritual of dusting on the sweet scented talc, leaving a trail of Lily of the Valley in her wake, which was the magic elixir. To me, the scent of Lily of the Valley instantly transports me back to my childhood, to memories of this wonderful woman, who ran a tobacconist shop in Glasgow, before moving herself and her young family half way around the world to start a new life in Australia in the 1920s. In her 90s, she was always up for a prank or a joke....my favourite of which was asking if I had ever seen a white bee. No, I would say...then she would open up a little matchbox, on the inside of which she had drawn a white chalk "B". I never tired of it, and would encourage her to carry the little matchbox with her, to ask unsuspecting folks the same question.
It was perhaps not surprising that she chose Lily of the Valley as her signature scent, as it was very much in vogue in the Edwardian era in which she was a young beauty. But it also happens to be the birthflower for May, so if you were born this month, it is very much your flower.
In the Victorian Language of Flowers, it symbolised "the return of happiness", and if a man were to give a lady a bouquet of it, he would be signifying that her love had allowed his joyous state. It also signified humility, luck and sweetness. There is an old English legend that explains how a Lily of the Valley plant so adored the sweet sound of a particular nightingale, that it would only flower in May when the nightingale returned. Its sweet scent was therefore a gift in exchange for the sweet tune.
Native to much of the Northern Hemisphere, including the cool temperate regions of Europe, Asia and the United States, it flourishes in moist shady conditions. It is a valuable garden plant in any areas which are shady and cool, and is especially beautiful tucked under trees where the little white bells stand out in the shade. And while the bell shaped flowers are charming, the entire plant is quite poisonous; but it is the incredible scent which makes this flower so loved.
Traditionally carried by brides in spring, it formed part of the bouquet worn by Catherine Middleton when she wed Prince William.
The very short flowering period of the Lily of the Valley perhaps adds to it's mystique...for it only flowers in early spring...and perhaps this fleeting quality is part of its beauty. To hone in on this sense of urgency, Guerlain produces a perfume with a Lily of the Valley fragrance, called Muguet, which is only available around May each year. What a perfect birthday gift for a woman born in May!
There is an old-fashioned charm about this little flower, although perhaps I am bias because of my own grandmother's love of it....but if I ever catch one little whiff of that sweet scent, similar to magnolias and gardenias...it really does seem to signify the return of happiness...as all beautiful perfumes can...