If April is the cruelest month, then July is definitely the smelliest, or at least it is in my garden. I've got phlox. I've got clethra. But most of all, I've got "Stargazer" Oriental lilies, and lots of them.
Stargazer lilies are one of those love 'em or hate 'em plants, and where you stand depends entirely on how you feel about gaudy flowers with an overpowering fragrance. I am in the "love 'em" camp, although I would never, ever cut them and bring them inside. In a word, they stink.
Now I happen to like the smell - out of doors. Inside, it will give you a headache. Peonies and roses, I think, are about as much fragrance as any human being can handle indoors; they have a comparatively subtle presence that invites you to lean in and inhale. By contrast, the Stargazer lily positively clobbers you with its aroma whenever you come near it. No need to lean in, unless you want to stain your clothes or dye your nose yellow.
Outdoors, though, Stargazers are glorious. They were among the first plants I purchased for my garden when I moved to Cary in 2005, and they've been done surprisingly well for me even though it's usually boiling hot by the time they bloom in late June or early July. Since Stargazers, like other Oriental lilies, dislike extreme heat, I had to fiddle with the location - full sun was too much, morning sun was too little - but after some trial and error I found the perfect location in my front garden, which gets afternoon sun.
Oriental lilies are not without their problems, the most common being voles, rabbits, and lily beetles. I've been lucky, though, and over the long run they have caused me less grief than the allegedly bulletproof Rudbeckia "Goldstrum.' I lost a few to rabbits, but since I discovered Liquid Fence that hasn't been an issue (although the neighbors now hate me). Last year, for the first time, I had lily beetles, but this year I went on the offensive and blasted off the eggs the minute they appeared. That solved this year. I'll worry about next year next year.
In the meantime, my hot pink stink-meisters are happily ensconced in the front garden bed. There, desperate for attention, they grow to more than 5 feet tall - about a foot or so more than they are supposed to, but that's North Carolina heat for you. By July, every stalk has exploded with flowers.
And that's when the bee and butterfly party begins. At this party, everyone wants to dance with Stargazer - no one else even gets a second glance. Liatris? I'll call you. Echinacea? You're okay, but there's something I forgot to tell Stargazer. The bumble bees in particular can hardly tear themselves away - they actually take a nap in the flowers. Or maybe they've just died and gone to heaven.
Success at last! Maybe not Martha Stewart success, but success by my standards. I grade myself on a curve.
My double early tulips are out, and I think they are pretty darn nice. Sure, they are a little shorter than they should be, and my two colors have, predictably, failed to bloom in concert. But I'm still giving myself an A. They are a lot better than last year's show.
How Not to Plant Daffodils
In gardening, as in life, sometimes it's hard to let go of a fantasy. My fantasy was Daffodil Hill.
The inspiration came from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens' Daffodil Hill, one of my favorite spots in New York City. After a bleak, gray winter, there is no happier sight than that host of golden daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Our house in Cary is a corner lot with a steep hill on the side. When we moved in, said hill was covered with grass - or rather, "grass," that special North Carolina blend of Whatever Grows in Compacted Clay. Mowing it was like riding a roller coaster. First you chug slowly and laboriously up the hill, praying all the while that you will not slip backwards. At the top, you do an about-face, then you and the lawn mower go flying downhill at breakneck speed. After a few brushes with death, the thrill wore off and we decided to let the adjacent ivy take over. That's when the fantasy kicked in.
Tulips: To Chill, Or Not To Chill
Tulips: To Chill, Or Not To Chill
The fall catalogues have arrived, so it’s time for my annual ritual: obsessing over tulips.
Why I bother is a very good question. As any southerner can tell you, tulips are basically annuals here. Some varieties won’t perennialize, and others will if and only if you provide optimal growing conditions. After reading what “optimal growing conditions” entailed (perfect drainage, perfect balance of nutrients, perfect light, and perfect moisture levels), I concluded that it would be far easier to start from scratch each year. So every fall, right before Thanksgiving, I grab the pickaxe and start digging, all so I can have two weeks of oohs and aahs in the spring.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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