A Christmas bouquet.

Below is a photo taken in 1933, during the Great Depression. It is a field of Christmas lilies on a property at Pennant Hills, in New South Wales. The farm produced 100,000 cut flowers for the  Australian florist trade that year.

Christmas lily fam in New South Wales 1933
Lilies of the field (pic from Trove)

Ladies could pick up a fragrant bouquet on pre-Christmas trips to the city.

Christmas lily display in Australia, 1950
What a display. (pic from Trove)

To my disappointment it seems that Christmas lilies are no longer part of our Australian festive traditions.  If there is a seasonal flower it would be scarlet poinsettia, or the gorgeous  native Christmas bush, shown below.

Australian Christmas Bush.

The lilies  were also a rural  tradition, grown in  cottage style, homestead  gardens. For many  of us their fragrance evokes Christmas as  powerfully as the smell of pine needles, plum puddings  and mince pies. My mother grew them in her Tasmanian garden and we all loved them.

But which is the ‘real’ Christmas lily? This was being debated  In The Age newspaper, way back in 1951. Some insist it’s Lilium longifloram, which flowers closest to Christmas, but the consensus seems to be Lilium candidum, even though it blooms a few weeks earlier. Both are pure white, and perfumed. I have no idea which variety  my mother grew,  but I suspect they were  L. candidum. appropriately known as The Madonna lily.

Lilium candidum, the Madonna lily

Lilium candidum (wikipedia).

The best way to tell the difference is that L. candidum is a semi evergreen, with  a rosette of broad leaves produced after  the flowering stems die down.

I’m not religious, but I do love this poem, linking the lilies to the Virgin Mary, and  Galilee.


I used to watch, oh, long ago,

The slender Christmas lilies grow

In row on row, so straight and tall,

All burning white against the wall.

And as I saw their tender grace,

I dreamt that in another place

That as they grew, by that far sea,

Where Mary lived, is Galilee.

In Galilee, in Galilee,

Oh, that was never strange to see,

I smelled the hot and scented air

And saw the lilies everywhere.


This tender, beautiful  WWI poem was published in December 1918


Last Christmas Eve the lilies swayed,

Late-blooming by the poppies’ flame. 

And ‘neath the oleander’s shade,

Drunk with a million scents I came.

And dreaming of my own brave love,

Far off from all he held most dear,

I thought to pick a single bloom

That, loved by him, would bring him near;

And leaning out with starting tear,

One lily bloom I picked for me…

In token of his chivalry.


Christmas lilies.

Christmas lilies (photo courtesy of Rhonda Brown)

In autumn last year my friend Maureen generously  sent me some bulbs from her garden in Victoria.  Again, we are not sure of the variety, but at least  I know they are  fragrant ones, unlike those I purchased a few years ago.

Pauline Conolly with lilies
These are pretty, but  have no perfume.
Lilies and roses
Editor Des  and lily bulbs.

My garden helper Editor  Des was as delighted to see the bulbs as I was.

I planted them  in various positions, to give me the best chance of success. Those in an open, sunnier spot have done the best so far.. They may not flower this year, but that’s OK.

 Lilies coming up
Doing well, accompanied by a few self-seeded potatoes.


Just look at those buds! How exciting.

Christmas lilies in bud
Oh yes!


Budding lilies.

Oh dear, seems they won’t quite make it after all I will have to decorate with  festive crimson  lilies that have no fragrance.

Christmas flowers.








Never mind, next year I will put a warm blanket over my white ‘Maureen’  Christmas lilies, and get them off to an earlier  start.


A fragrant garden seat.



  1. Hi Pauline,

    I don’t comment on your posts but I do read them 🙂 Just wanted to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and New Year.

    Bye for now,
    Cheryl xxx

  2. Merry Christmas! Enjoy those beautiful flowers. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get too close to them as the fragrance bothers me, but they are gorgeous to look at. I really look forward to reading your posts and love the historic element. Thank you.

    • Pauline

      Thank you so much, Diane. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too. I’m sure your granddaughters are very excited.

  3. Thank you so much for the wonderful post on Christmas lillies .
    I planted some bulbs in full.sun and they are so near to blooming.
    I.am hopeful of having some for Christmas .
    I am surprised that they have survived the adverse weather that we
    have experienced. Fingers crossed.
    Have a wonderful Christmas . 🎄🎄🎄

    • Pauline

      Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a message, Laura. I do hope you are lucky enough to have them flowering in time for Christmas. Compliments of the season to you.

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