2018-05-24 / From The Garden

The Sweet Fragrance of Spring

By Cynthia Gibson


The variegated Lily of the Valley produces pristine white fragrant flowers. The variegated Lily of the Valley produces pristine white fragrant flowers. After a rain, the earth smells so fresh. The chirping of the birds is glorious, and their songs are so welcome after a long winter and a late spring.

Besides the rich smell of the earth, you can’t miss the spring’s fragrant flowers, lily of the valley and lilacs. Their fragrances are heavenly, and they truly herald spring.

Lily of the valley is such a special flower. It is celebrated on the first of May throughout Europe. Perfumeries have used the essence of the flower to create some of the most expensive fragrances.

May 1 is a public holiday in France on which lilies of the valley are given. The French newspaper, Le Connexion, says, “The tradition of giving lily of the valley flowers on that day is said to have begun in 1560, when knight Louis Girard presented King Charles IX with lily of the valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year.”


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Specialty nurseries will carry the unusual striped leaf or variegated lily of the valley. The smallest bouquet of this fragrant flower placed in a small vase next to your bed is also said to give you sweet dreams for three days. The fragrance is sweet and fresh, and not in the least cloying. It is the flower that is found in many fairy tales.

Lily of the valley are sold in flats and are easily found in your favorite nursery. Varieties to look for are convallaria majalis Bordeaux, which is the large sized lily of the valley and is sensational.

The variegated leaf variety is convallaria majalis albostriata. If you spend a bit more money for this variety, the leaves will revert to a solid green after about four years. Lily of the valley are free spirits and can become mildly invasive. The best way to take care of this fragrant marching army is to dig up the extras and give them to friends. They love shade, can tolerate partial sun and flourish in the same growing conditions as hosta. This is a must have in any yard or as a ground cover.

Lilacs are a fragrance of spring. The long, conical drooping flowers are fragrant and romantic. The lilac has never really received much praise, as it was originally planted behind the house near the kitchen door to keep away witches and evil spirits. Even though their season is short, they are truly overlooked. Their perfume is unmistakably heady. An armful of lilac in a simple vase will fill your home with its splendid scent. Some grow to be quite old and can easily outlive us, so they are a wonderful investment if you are looking for color in the spring, along with a brilliant bouquet.

Look for syringa angel white and syringa congo, which is an heirloom lilac from the 1860s and sports a profound fragrance. Sensation is a magnificent bi-color, with each purple floret outlined in crisp white. The truest blue of all the lilacs and stately in form and scent is called President Lincoln.

Once these fragrant flowers are planted, you may want to pitch a tent in your backyard just to be lulled to sleep with their heady aroma.

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