As part of the ‘Sciences’ aspect of domesticity, I thought it might be interesting to cultivate a little knowledge of botany around here. Gardening and horticultural might well have been part of a young woman’s education in the domestic arts, since the ability to grow and nurture a well-tended garden would have been important for both sustenance as well as for its aesthetic possibilities.
With that in mind, the first installment of Botany 101 feature Lily of the Valley, a flower that I’ve seen cropping up here and there, and which is designated as the birth flower for the month of May.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a perennial plant found in most temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It can grow profusely if allowed, and thrives in shady areas. Its Latin derivative actually refers to its association with the month of May, and in the Language of Flowers it represents happiness. Even so, the plant itself is poisonous. In France, lily of the valley is traditionally sold on 1 May.
In classical paintings, lilies of the valley are often associated with the second coming of Christ, and in folk tales are also important symbols. For celebrations, lily of the valley can be used in centrepieces, or are commonly found in boutonnieres.
Whether you find a cluster of these flowers in your own back garden, at a park, or amongst the pavement of a city (as I’ve seen recently), their delicate flowers and rich green foliage is a sure sign that summer is just around of the corner.
Now, my fair’st friend,
I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: O Proserpina,
For the flowers now, that frighted thou let’st fall
From Dis’s waggon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength–a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!
The Winter’s Tale (4.4.133-50)