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Northeast Gardening: Flowers and Fragrance

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Like love and beauty, fragrance is worth cultivating. This is especially true in the garden, where so many flowers make good sense.


Like the lilacs that breathe of spring and remind me of my grandmother, who always stopped by the bush in our otherwise sparsely planted backyard to smell the blooms and cut a bouquet for the house.

Or consider the soft fragrance of sweet woodruff, the romantic perfume of lavender, the heady scent of hyacinths, the dizzying aroma of some daphnes, especially pale-pink 'Carol Mackie.' And phlox and heliotrope and summersweet clethra and viburnum and roses and nicotiana and more.

And lilies--oh yes, lilies. No snobbery intended, but I'm referring to true lilies--not wannabes lilies of the valley and daylilies and water lilies and calla lilies and torch lilies. True lilies belong to the genus Lilium and grow from bulbs that have overlapping scales instead of papery tunics, like tulips and daffodils. The aromatic varieties include Easter lilies and glamorous pink 'Stargazer' and my favorite scented flowers, 'Casa Blanca' lilies, above.

I was entranced the first time I saw these 10inch-wide blooms and savored their fragrance. The petals reach out like white evening gloves, with fingers that curve backward at the tips. There are six to eight flowers on each stalk, and their perfume is bold and strong but sweet--and, well, intoxicating. Don't be afraid to inhale--the only danger you'll face is instant love.

Since true lilies never really go dormant, you can plant your Casa Blancas in spring or fall, but don't let them dry out. Either way they're at their best in summer. Plant them deeply in enriched soil and make sure it's a sunny site with good drainage.

My Casa Blancas hold court in the borders of my garden. They can't help stealing the show, but they get along well with pink phlox and purple coneflowers. 'Victoria Blue' salvia and lavender petunias at the edge of the borders create a royal carpet at their feet.

The Casa Blancas first bloomed on a July morning 14 years ago, when I was dealing with breast cancer. Their perfume swept across the front yard. And I thought of Humphrey Bogart toasting Ingrid Bergman in the classic film Casablanca.

I couldn't help myself. "Here's looking at you, kid," I said.

It was, indeed, the start of a beautiful friendship.