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!