Lily of the valley for the month of May

By Beatrice Hawkins

In this first week of May the birth flower for the month is the beautiful and very fragrant lily of the valley.

I had some growing in a garden in the NSW tablelands some time ago. I hadn’t planted them, they were growing under a camellia when I shifted onto the property. The delicate little creamy white bells with the delightful fragrance were a great addition to the area outside the back door.

The symbolism for the flower is humility and a return to happiness. It is often used in wedding bouquets for its lovely fragrance and delicate blossoms.

Lily of the valley has been around since at least 1000BC, originating in Europe but today is found across North America and North Asia and commonly as wildflowers in England.

They are one of the most fragrant of the spring flowering plants. If grown from seeds they may take many years to flower. They are shade loving and like moisture through their growing season and will repay with multiple stems of tiny fragrant bells in spring.

Researching for this article I found they are a plant with every part – flowers, leaves, berries and pips – highly poisonous! I was astonished!

They contain cardiac glycosides the same as the digitalis in foxgloves and the recommendation was not to touch any part of the plant without gloves. This seems a bit extreme when they are so commonly used in wedding bouquets.

In France, May 1st is the festival of the lily of the valley – when you give loved ones bouquets and wish them health and happiness.

As you drive around at the moment there are number of beautiful grevilleas in bloom in gardens and on nature strips.

This versatile Australian native was named for Charles Francis Greville, 1749-1809, a friend of Sir Joseph Banks and founder of the Royal Horticultural Society.

There are over 340 species of this genus of the protea family and are close cousins of the South African protea, Australian Hakeas and the Ivory Curl tree that I wrote about earlier in the year after seeing them in spectacular full flower in Toowoomba.

Ranging from small ground covers through all sizes to large rainforest trees, they are evergreen and highly prized for their bird, butterfly and bee-attracting qualities, as well as for the timber from the large trees.

Silky Oak trees are grevilleas and most people would be aware of the beautiful furniture quality timber that this supplies.

While they will grow in shade as they are often understorey trees in the bush, they like full sun and a gritty free draining, low phosphorous soil and are drought hardy once established.

In fact one of the problems can be overwatering as they can suffer from root rot. They suffer from few pests as the numbers of birds they attract keep insects under control.

The shrub sized varieties should be lightly trimmed often by removing spent flowers as this will keep them producing and maintain a nice compact shape.

If they become leggy and straggly over the years they can be cut back by about one third to half and this is best done in October. Lightly tip prune again after about two months to produce a bushy shape and an abundance of flowers on new wood in the following autumn and winter and your old bush will take on a new life.

While they can be grown from seed, they are best propagated by cuttings by taking half ripened tips in summer and striking them in a good propagating mix.

They will produce true to type so you can be sure you will get the same variety as the one from which you took the cutting. The colour range is wide from creamy white right through the spectrum to deep red and magenta.

Don’t forget that Avis Stehn’s garden at Clintonvale is open this Saturday.

Avis has for the last few years won the garden on acreage section of the Horticultural Society’s spring garden competition.

On the last Wednesday evening in May at 7pm in the CWA rooms in Grafton Street, the Horticultural Society will be hosting a free information evening.

We will be privileged to have Heather Prior give some tips on floral art and Noel Prior demonstrate some of the finer points of staging flowers and plants for shows.

Anyone interested and involved in shows around the area is most welcome to attend and I am sure will gain some helpful advice from an expert judge. It is always good to know what a judge looks for and requires.

So, stewards, helpers and exhibitors at our local agricultural shows come along and join us. There will be time for questions and supper following the presentations.

*This is an old article that has been digitised so our readers have access to our full catalogue.