Steamy summer lilies
perfume the humid air,
Trumpets stuffed with sticky pistils
and golden stamen dust,
Myriad pollinators’ fare.
Humid, hot, musky weather has heightened the fragrance of late, late, late spring. Summer solstice is June 21st, but heady scents have wafted about for quite some time now, enticing us toward full summer, especially in the dark. What smells so good right now?
The stars of the garden are the Regale lilies which have been glorious for weeks during this beneficent season. Sweetbay magnolia, (hard-to-find evergreen cultivar ‘Henry Hicks’) anchors the corner of the front porch, with annual Nicotiana alata ‘Fragrant Cloud’ scattered through the border, popping out white at night (which you must take some trouble for. Eltzroth-Thompson and Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants in Charlottesville grow them each year but sell out right away. You can grow your own from seed.) Night moths love it.
Wild honeysuckle and multiflora rose, the bane of native plant champions who fight their aggressive ways, still scent our rural night air with the haunting resonance of the South. In counterpoint, native milkweed is thriving, feeding fritillaries, swallowtails, and butterflies of all sorts. I believe ours is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), with more of a pink flower.It smells like talcum powder, a heavy sweet scent. I think I see the common milkweed (A. syrica) in the ditches now, with more of a purple hue.
Bright orange A. tuberosa spangles the roadsides in dry sunny spots. Asclepias species feed many, many pollinators, including the iconic endangered Monarch butterfly. We must plant them everywhere – roadsides, medians, neighborhood drain fields, perennial borders, lowlands, wetlands.
I spoke to the Piedmont Master Gardeners (www.piedmontmastergardeners.org) in April and attended one of their “Through the Garden Gate” tours recently and am so impressed with the wealth of talent and commitment in the gardening community of Albemarle County and environs. Check out your local Master Gardeners and see what they’re up to.