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.
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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