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Friday flowers: lily of the valley

May 24, 2013

In a secret spot near the river, where two paths meet, grows a patch of wild lily of the valley. Every May I make a little pilgrimage there to collect a posy of what is, to me, the essence of May.


Last year I misjudged the timing. Spring came so early that the lilies flowered in April, and I never saw them. This year, spring has come so late that they are only just beginning to flower as June approaches.

You can smell them before you see them. That sweet, creamy, green scent is like no other: it smells as if it would turn to rich lather on your cheeks. Then you make out the flowers nodding their heads under the leaves; little white bells with frilly hems, like a row of cotton bloomers on a washing line.


Failing the ability to share the scent with you through the internet, I can at least share a couple of pictures of the posy I picked. I won’t collect any more: a single small and treasured handful of wild lily of the valley is one of the greatest treats of the season.



Other posts from this time of year which you might enjoy are Forest bathing and In the enchanted wood.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2013 8:19 pm

    I’ve only seen Lilly of the Valley in paintings – reminds me of old fashion elegance. Wish I could smell them!

  2. May 24, 2013 8:34 pm

    How lovely!
    In France it is lucky to wear a little bouquet of them on the 1st of May, and since it is a holiday people go out and collect them and sell them in the cities. I always thought that was so sweet when we lived there. They are some of my favourite flowers too!

    • May 24, 2013 11:29 pm

      Thanks for telling us about that lovely tradition: I hadn’t heard of it before. It is very rare for our Scottish lilies to be in bloom on the first of May, though, unlike in France!

  3. Erika W. permalink
    May 24, 2013 8:40 pm

    A green scent–yes!

    Beautiful photographs, thank you.

  4. May 24, 2013 8:46 pm

    Thank you for the post. It made me pop into our back garden to check to see if out lily of the valley was blooming and it is just starting. Surprising as the snow only melted a few weeks ago. Very pretty pictures.

    • May 24, 2013 11:30 pm

      It makes me happy to know that there is lily of the valley to be found on the other side of the Pond. 🙂

  5. May 25, 2013 12:00 am

    I cherished a bottle of penhaligons lily of the valley scented lotion for years. Gave it to myself as a present, when i was still studiying, and a bottle of penhaligons was a really biiig dent in my budget ;).
    Such a wonderful scent….

    Right up there with my other favorite: Mimosa…unfortunately not thriving in our part of the world.

    • May 30, 2013 11:47 pm

      I can imagine that bottle must have been very special to you! We don’t have mimosa here, we are far too far north. I just look forward to it on rare visits to warmer climes.

  6. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    May 25, 2013 2:46 am

    yes here too in Ontario near Ottawa. we planted them for my grandmother who really loved them and now I do too although they are not blooming here yet. i am looking forward to them

  7. May 25, 2013 7:38 am

    I love those too, and it is a scent that is truly unique. A real ‘cottage garden’ flower – my grandmother had a huge bed of them. We have some in the garden but they are still waiting to flower. What a gorgeous spring posy!

    • May 30, 2013 11:49 pm

      We tried to transplant some from this wild patch to the garden, but they failed to thrive. They are quite stubborn, they know exactly where they want to live, thank you very much. 🙂

  8. May 25, 2013 4:48 pm

    My mother loved lilly of the valley, but it doesn’t grow happily in South Africa.Memories of London and Cornwall for her, substituted with perfume. I appreciate you describing the smell so evocatively for me.

  9. May 26, 2013 10:23 pm

    “little white bells with frilly hems, like a row of cotton bloomers on a washing line.” What a perfect image. 🙂 It’s such a lovely and evocative scent and always reminds me of my mother’s garden, which had a treasured clump of lily of the valley in a shady corner.

  10. June 3, 2013 8:19 pm

    thank you so much for this post – it reminded me that I have a patch hiding up against the garden wall. Picked myself a thoroughly indulgent posy……

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