Lily of the Valley


When I was about 8 years old, I discovered the huge swath of lily-of-the-valley. They were growing all along the driveway at my grandparent’s house.

The house was in a relatively urban town just outside of Boston. As I look back at it now, from the vantage point of my current rural life, it seems like a house in a big city.

But it was the home that my grandparents bought after leaving the inner city life of Boston during the Great Depression and the Second World War. For them, as immigrants from Sicily in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this house was like paradise. It had a porch, a yard, and even a garage.

I remember that the right side of the house, the side away from the driveway, had a fence to separate it from the neighbor’s. I remember that fence because it was lined with a row of lovely roses, each one carefully pruned and shaped, each a different shade of red or pink. They were gorgeous, all of them, and my grandfather was so proud of them. His bride, my Nana, was named Rose, and he grew them to show her his love.

But even more than the roses, I remember the blossoms that grew along the neglected driveway on the other side of the house. It was a long, narrow path, marking the border between the houses on that suburban street. My grandparents’ side of the drive was line with huge, towering, pines. They were spaced about 20 feet apart, and each had a strong, straight trunk. I thought of them as guardians when I was a child. I felt that each one watched over our Nana and Grampa and the home that held our family’s heart.

I loved those big trees.

And then one day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I wandered out to where the trees grew. It must have been early May. I found thousands and thousands of tiny, perfect, beautiful white blossoms, each one dangling along a thin green thread.

The smell of them was intoxicating. I had never in my life seen or smelled or even imagined anything so perfect. I remember that I picked one delicate stem, so carefully, and ran inside to my Nana.

“Nana! What is this? Where did it come from??”

She told me that it was called “Lily-of-the-valley” and that someone had planted a few of them at the edge of the driveway before she and Grampa had bought the house. She explained that they were a kind of “wild flower” and that they’d spread along the entire length of the drive, making a sweet carpet under those huge pines.

I was amazed, enchanted, captivated. “Lily-of-the-valley” was such a magical name! But where was the valley? I could only see the thin strip of land along the driveway. I saw no valley.

But I imagined one.

I created an imaginary valley full of grass and wildflowers and those gloriously fragrant bells of lilly.

For the next decade, at least, I went back to revel in the glorious magic of those little blossoms. I played along the drive when I was a girl. I imagined tiny fairies, dressed in silver gossamer, dancing under the lilies. As I got older, I’d pick a bouquet of those fragrant blooms, knowing that their magic was fleeting.

I remember holding my baby girl, my first born child, and showing her the rows and rows of beautiful lily-of-the-valley.

And when my Nana died, at the accomplished age of 99, I went to her house and I dug up some of those tender flowers. I brought them to my house, in a more rural part of Massachusetts, and I put those ten little shoots into the ground.

Flowers can be a legacy. These are surely a reminder and a marker of my Nana and her life.

My garden is now full of lily-of-the-valley. They burst into bloom at the same time as our lilacs, filling the air around our house with pure heaven.

And every time I walk along my walkway, I think of Nana. I think of those big pines, and of the fairies that I imagined making tiny houses under the arching stems of those lily-of-the-valley.

Yesterday I brought some shoots of those glorious flowers to my daughter, in the new home that she has made for her young family.

I love knowing that my Nana’s love, and her grace, and her natural strength and beauty, will pass through me to my daughter, and hopefully then to hers.

I lie in my bed tonight, breathing deeply, taking in the perfume of those magical blooms.

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

The lily-of-the-valley is my proof.

17 thoughts on “Lily of the Valley

  1. White coral bells upon a slender stalk.
    Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.
    Oh, how I wish that I could hear them ring.
    That will only happen when the fairies sing.

    Beautiful May perennials returning every year, reminding us of Mother Nature’s abundance and never-ending renewal.

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      • I remember that round from my Girl Scout days and sing it whenever I encounter lilies of the valley when out for a walk…I had a maiden aunt – Aunt Jane, my mother’s oldest sister, 20 years her senior – who was very good to my sisters and me. She wanted us to have enough silver teaspoons for entertaining when we grew up and gifted us with a spoon every Christmas and birthday until we each had a dozen. We were allowed to choose the pattern and I chose Gorham’s Lily of the Valley because I loved the flower and it is the “flower of May,” my birth month. Still have those teaspoons and use them whenever I set my table formally. May have to write that as a memoir piece.

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  2. Thank you for this evocative reflection. Lily-of-the -valley is a fragrance that I, too, remember from my childhood, reminding me of my grandmother. I’m inspired to plant some on the weekend.

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