May 1 is an annual public holiday in France (Labour Day) and other countries around the world. A symbol of this event is the fragrant Lily of the Valley flower, blooming around that time. In 1560, Charles IX of France was presented with Lily of the Valley flowers as a good luck token. In appreciation, he decided to present all the ladies at court with Lily of the Valley bouquets each year on “le 1er mai.” Today this tradition continues in France, with the tax-free sale of Lily of the Valley flowers by street sellers and florists.
As a child, I grew up making May baskets to deliver to my grandmother and aunt. We would cover baskets in bright crepe paper and go out to the meadow and garden to find flowers in bloom to fill it. Then the fun began: deliver the basket to the doorstep, ring the bell, run and hide, watch the door open, and hear a happy exclamation at the sight of the basket. A shout of “Happy May Day” crowned the tradition.
Lily of the Valley is one of those tough, old-fashioned plants, with running roots and a special tolerance for dry shade. Be careful where you plant it, as the roots can invade other perennials over time and become difficult to extract. This plant is probably best grown in its own bed or to encircle a tree, rock, or other landscape feature.