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Photography:
Laura Hunt


Start Your Own Tradition

Johanna Kaestner

 

When Lilies of the Valley are in bloom, we know spring is here.

It was called The House on the Wall because it was built on a knoll and fortified by field stones, and it belonged to my favorite aunt. In spring and summer the wooden fence was covered with flowering pink and white Rugosa Roses; their colorful branches almost touched the street below. The house with its dark brown  gable and blue shutters could easily be recognized from the valley; from the street just below, it was hidden by an ivy- covered wall and large fir trees. A squeaking, black, cast iron door, usually left ajar, was the entrance to my childhood paradise. After the first steep rise, the stairs became more level, cutting through a small hillside. Starting in early May this whole area was covered with hundreds of white bells and their green, pointed leaves.

My birthday is during that time, and I was about five when my aunt gave me the first nosegay. From then on lilies of the valley were part of my celebration. Sometimes, depending on weather, they had to be picked from a sunny spots, yet barely opened; other springs, the last few bells were waiting on the shady patch underneath the trees. Whatever gift I was given, the fragrant flowers accompanied it.

When we got married, my husband continued this tradition. It was not always easy, particularly when we lived in California while he went to school. During those years he gave me picture postcards with lilies of the valley. Later he'd call a florist friend well before my birthday to make sure she would find a few stems. Several times he brought me a bunch from Europe. He placed them carefully in a bed of damp paper towels inside a Tupperware container and looked forward to seeing my shiny eyes.

When we moved to Washington, we learned that here again lilies of the valley can be planted outside. On my first birthday here I received a flower pot with several blooming plants, which found their home underneath our cedars. The following year we watched them grow, watched the leaves appear, then tiny little knots announce the flowers, and two days later they were gone. A slimy track told us where they had ended.

How surprised I was to find a large bouquet of the most beautiful flowers on my birthday table; my beaming husband next to it. He couldn't wait to tell his story. He had already stopped at the second flower shop to search for lilies of the valley, but to no avail. A woman customer saw his disappointment and offered him her lily patch to pick from. He followed her home to an abundance of flowers.

From that time on they meet once per year in her garden, and she is happy to share her delicate flowers with him as a symbol of love.

Epilog

After the warm spring in 2004, the lilies of the valley already were withered when my birthday rolled around. This time our friendly supplier gave my husband several lily patches, complete with soil and bulbs, which my husband planted immediately.

For the first time in my life, the fragrant, little white bells, that enhance the coffee table in the family room, come from our own garden.
 




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