May has got to be one of the most beautiful times of the year here in the Cotswolds. In my garden at the moment there is such a variety of blossom. We have several varieties of apple, two kinds of pear, a cherry tree and a quince all covered in blossom. The hellebores are almost over but there are still a few tulips and primroses. The blue bush, whose name I can never remember, is covered in flowers and the orange azalea is amazing. But the piece de resistance has got to be the Lily of the Valley. I did not plant these, they were already naturalised when we moved in ~ but they are superb. They are prolific under my pear trees. The perfume that surrounds them is just beautiful. There are so many in our garden that I picked a couple of bunches on Sunday. I brought one indoors where the perfume fills the room. I gave the other bunch to a lovely local lady when I took her some rhubarb I had just picked. The rhubarb is another thing that seems to love our soil as it grows really well. Unfortunately my husband is not allowed to eat it now that he is on dialysis so I tend to give it away.
Lily of the Valley is a native of Britain. The 16th century Gerard’s Herbal decries it as “growing on hampstead Heath, four miles from London, in great abundance@” I must remember to check if it still grows there. It used to be a tradition here to give bunches of Lily of the Valley on May 1st. It still is in France I believe, where the flowers are called Muguet.
In 1851 Queen Victoria commissioned a special painting to commemorate 1st May. It was a very special year for her as it was Prince Arthur’s first birthday, the 82nd birthday of the Duke of Wellington who was the Prince’s grandfather, and the opening day of the Great Exhibition. Of course Lily of the Valley featured prominently in the painting with the Duke of Wellington presenting a posy to the Queen, Prince Albert and the young prince Arthur. The painting was completed by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and is in the style of the adoration of the Magi which seems rather irreverent to me but was a sign of the times I guess.