Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis and C. Montana) equals Spring. In Europe, the flower is associated with May 1st, in the U.S., they are in abundance throughout the month of May, barring extreme weather complications. A member of the lily family, this stunning little family member has bell-shaped, drooping white flowers that have the most incredible sweet scent. The wild varieties grow in shaded or wooded areas, their underground rhizomes spread like weeds, and when it thaws enough, send out wide leaves of a medium green color. Then, the delicate blooms emerge. There are few things simpler and more beautiful than a bunch (small or large) of fresh lily of the valley in a vase in your home.
Today, the flower is widely cultivated because it is so sought after for commercial purposes such as wedding bouquets. I believe the most stunning use of it may be the whoppingly large bunch of them on the casket of the late Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis when she passed away in 1994(?). Whoppingly large would apply to a bouquet of just say 8 inches in diameter if it included mostly flowers, and very few leaves. The fragrance such a bouquet might have would exceed several spritzes of the most expensive French perfume but the natural version would cost even more. A small bunch of lily of the valley with leaves at the wholesale flower market or at the outdoor markets was USD10; so a really big bunch of blooms could run USD500+ if you were really extravagant!
My pet lily of the valley peeve? Manila brides who request, and florists who oblige the inclusion of the delicate flower in Manila wedding bouquets but do it half-assedâ€¦ the flowers are flown in, cost a lot, and tend to wilt in the heatâ€¦ so when florists put them in bouquets they tend to put all or most of the leaves to pump up the volume and it looks like the bride is carrying a bunch of lily leaves with a few flowers peeking out. They inevitably wilt during the ceremony and look less than stellar. My unsolicited advice, donâ€™t screw with the flower unless you can do it justice. So there. I include three photos of this great flower: first, a close up of the bell-shaped blooms, second, a pail of stripped-down lily of the valley without leaves (intense, no?) and finally, pails of several dozens of bunches of lily of the valley grown on a farm in upstate New York. Enjoy!