Today is the la Fête du Travail in France and the symbol of this public holiday – in honour of workers’ rights – is the lily-of-the-valley. Lily-of-the-valley swamps us with its appearance everywhere at this time of year.
Not just in our gardens: on street corners in towns there are people offering little bunches of it (a change from, ‘Buy some lucky heather?’), and Aldi and Lidl dish it up to us in small pots by the hundred.
The custom is said to have started on May 1 1561, when an unknown citizen presented King Charles IX with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley as a token of prosperity for the coming year. He began a tradition of presenting ladies at the court with lily-of-the-valley each May Day.
By 1900 French lovers were exchanging bunches – and the habit began to spread amongst close family members as well. So today, when you go to visit your maman or mamie, it would be very bad form if you failed to take her some lily-of-the-valley.
I planned to use my own (flowering, amazingly, for quite a few weeks now) in a vase this May Day – the rhizomes came originally from my mother’s garden in Scotland and are now slowly establishing. But not nearly as well as they do in Scotland! The little vase is one I call my ‘snowdrop’ vase – so long with me that I can’t remember where I got it.
I popped some of its own foliage into the vase with a little sprig of the vetch Vicia sativa. I love the vetch when it’s flowering, but later on when it starts bouncing up amongst the rhizomes of irises my delight turns to curses.
And then I was kind of inspired to go on an make a trio of vases.
Taking a walk out in the garden on this slightly rainy May Day, I felt like picking a little of Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ and Victor Lemoine’s lilac ‘Belle de Nancy’. If you want to know more about Lemoine, a breeder who came from the city of Nancy (our capital in Lorraine), have a look at this old post.
Here is his lovely deep purple lilac, just beginning to really do its thing chez nous.
My shrubs are all so small here that this seems rather cruel. However, it IS raining and there are other flowers, so I dared. The Exchorda is not at all happy being told what to do in a vase. The flower stems are drooping and I noticed this morning that it starts to flower from the top down, so the leading flower on the spike is always the oldest – a nuisance if you are arranging it, when you want the freshest, sweetest at the top.
I also used Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, whose flowering stems are just as difficult to place in a vase, although it looks so graceful draped down a stone wall.
Finally, almost for foliage, the young shoots and buds of Spirea betulifolia It was in the garden when we arrived here, and named for me by another Monday vase-maker last year when I used it. Thanks so much again – it’s a fluffy little sweetie when the flowers open!
I did think that the rose looked particularly delicious with the purple of ‘Belle de Nancy’.
Hop on over and see what the others are doing at Cathy’s meme at Rambling in the Garden.
And thanks so much again for hosting, Cathy! This meme is really forcing me to slow down and ENJOY my garden.
Happy May Day to everyone!
23 thoughts on “In a Vase on Monday”
Lovely vignette, Cathy! I liked hearing about the lily-of-the-valley history on May Day in France. It is not celebrated as much in the New World as the Old, but being French-Canadian, we always picked flowers for our mother and she had to chase us to catch and kiss us! All fun!
I didn’t realise you were French-Canadian, Eliza. I’m Canadian! How lovely that you added your memories of your mother to my vase – I was thinking of mine!
These are a delightful trio. I can’t pick a favourite. I remember taking a holiday in France which coincided with May Day and seeing posies of lily of the valley everywhere. It is a lovely tradition. I love your Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, such a soft look and gentle colour.
This is a truly gorgeous rose – a bit rampant though. But we forgive it in anticipation of how lovely it is each year.
Loved Lily of Valley story x
Thanks so much, Paula. I think it’s a special flower for many of us.xxx
Interesting story about the Lily of the Valley, I’ve never had any success with it. Love the Banksia with the Lilac. This meme is addictive isn’t it. My vases give me so much pleasure each week as does seeing what everyone else is choosing.
You are so right Christina – unfortunately my vases this week are already drooping on Tuesday night. Lots to learn!
All 3 vases are delightful, Cathy! Lily of the Valley was one of the flowers that represented the magic of the garden to me as a child (after pansies). I wish I could grow them here! I love the the Banksia rose too – another old favorite.
Magical flowers are important, aren’t they – the ones we have a deep association with that almost seems to go beyond ourselves. My Banksian rose was planted because when I was a student it was over the wall of the building that I was in and out of every day. That particular rose is now dead. But whenever I see mine I think of it!
Oh that’s intersting about the L of the V traditions – I wonder if Younger Sister knew that when she sent some up to our mother? She certainly knew she especially liked L of the V thoough, which I didn’t. Your little posy in the snowdrop vase is so sweet, and the Banksia roses are gorgeous too – O toyed with the idea of a Banksia at home but haven’t really a suitable place and they are quite fleeting, I believe. Thanks for sharing today – good to see ALL your vases!
Thanks for the kind comment, Cathy. Yes, you are right, the Banksian rose is fleeting. But so very good that we look forward to it for weeks before hand – when it flowers, it is sheer joy. I think the L of the V must be beloved wherever it can be grown, hardly surprising that so many people have latched onto it as important. I did enjoy your story about the Younger Sister – she’s obviously someone ‘in the know’!
I love the lily-of-the-valley tale … it grows so well here in Scotland, doesn’t it! I’m trying to establish some in my garden, although I think it is a little dry for it under my tree. Three gorgeous vases – thank you for sharing them.
Very dry here where it is growing. Good luck with it in your lovely garden!
Oh my, what a section of flowers, they go so well together! What a fun post to read as well, and I love hearing the stories and traditions of other regions.
I can only imagine how beautiful the garden is right now if these are just a few stolen branches from here and there!
Glad you enjoyed. I look at the flowers in the kitchen and think of my poor little shrubs outside … and feel guilty!
I love your collection of vases this week – the lily of the valley steals the show though. I have never had much success with it, and only get a few flowers each year. The tradition connected with May 1st is lovely and I wish they would spread across the border to us! 😉
Oh that’s a fine trio of vases Cathy although my favourite has to be the lily of the valley. My lily of the valley also came from my parent’s garden and the initial handful of slips are now a ribbon of a hundred or more at the base of our living room window. They are just coming into flower now. The French tradition is most civilised.
Isn’t it nice to have things from your parents in your garden – and lily of the valley is the perfect memory of them.
J &D > Every one of the many gardens we’ve had have had Lily of the Valley. Either because they were already in an established garden, or we brought some with us to help establish a new garden. Even here in the walled garden in Uist, there’s a small patch of them. However, they’ve always been white, and reading your lovely post we now realize that we’ve never even thought there might be other colours and forms: because they seem to be ubiquitous, we’ve never ever bought any, never lacked any, and so have never even looked them up in catalogues or online to see what’s available. We now realize we’ve been missing out on something! We’re wanting to add more to our woodland areas, so we’ll think about that for next year. Thank you very much Cathy for inspiring us!
I wasn’t quite sure about the other colours! Perhaps its because the ones I used were already just slightly past it? They were originally white. Although I think there are pink forms too, although I haven’t tried them.
A fantastic trio, full of spring treats. I went out to look at my Lily of the Valley but it only has 3 sprigs so I left it. I expect it will be running everywhere soon. The misbehaving flowers all look lovely and the vetch is a nice touch which I hadn’t thought of.
Thanks Alison – the Lily-of-the-Valley lasted an amazingly long time this year, due to colder night temperatures.