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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in fragrant flowers (2)


Beauty of Moscow Is a Bittersweet Lilac Delight

image:- portersnurseries.comIt should be no surprise to other passionate plant collectors that when syringa “Beauty of Moscow” a.k.a. Krasavitsa Moskvy, was introduced, I was compelled to buy one for myself.

In truth, I didn’t need another lilac shrub. There were already too many growing in my garden. However, the hype accompanying this new plant was strong and, like many other gardeners who can hardly wait for the next wowing plant to become available, I succumbed to the charms of the publicity, without waiting for other gardeners’ feedback.

As is often the case in my area, new varieties are not immediately included in wholesalers’ inventory. Growers and distributors in USDA Zone 4 need to test grow a plant for hardiness before they are comfortable offering it to the public. Since I was impatient, it was necessary to order Beauty of Moscow from a mass-market catalogue house.

image:- plants unlimited.comUsually, I try not to buy from such sources. Some of you already know that these suppliers outrageously ship seedling-sized plants at prices that are equivalent to those of one or two-year-old potted plants sold at nurseries. Consequently, the size of the Beauty of Moscow lilac that I received in the mail was pitifully small for the price I paid.

After watching it develop at a very slow pace and eventually reading what other gardeners reported, I am now pessimistic about the future of this plant in my garden. Some have been dismayed by its early sparseness. That is, it did not produce lush leaves, while branches sprout at a distance from one another, leaving large negative spaces in between. Others find that it is invasive because it suckers too much.

Clearly, this plant is sold only for its superlatives. The flower heads of Beauty of Moscow are larger than the blooms on any other lilac shrub growing in my garden. It sports huge, deep pink flower buds that open into enormous white petals. The combination and contrast of the pink buds with white petals is stunning.  It is also extremely fragrant, exuding a powerful, hypnotic and sweet perfume.  

This flowering shrub cannot satisfy everyone’s gardening needs. Homeowners looking for a multipurpose, tall, lush shrub with minimal maintenance are advised to choose among the endless varieties of more conventional lilac shrubs that are available everywhere.

However, gardeners who always hunt for the next intense sensory experience, and who are comfortable buying plants they don’t really need – and there are many of us who belong to this group :) - will be delighted with syringa Beauty of Moscow, even though they might end up fighting to stop it from suckering. We gardeners are a very unusual group!

Click here for a magnificent copyrighted image of this lilac's flowerhead, taken by Linda Stanzel.


Thorny, Leggy, Fragrant, White Rugosa Rose "Blanc Double de Coubert" the summer, I use white flowers as garden accents to enhance others colors in the flowerbed. However, in early and late spring, white is the dominant player in many gardens, including mine. In warmer climates, gardeners swoon with the arrival of white galanthus [snowdrops] at winter’s end; and early spring brings us white flowering bulbs such as crocus, hyacinth, and narcissus.

Before colorful summer perennials begin to bloom, my season begins with white rose Blanc Double de Coubert. It flowers almost in loneliness. The only flourishing plant nearby is yellow Trollius, shown above. A hard-to-see Baptisia australis grows next to the rose on the left, but it is not cooperating. It refuses to flower in tandem with its neighbors. In some years, it has displayed its purple buds in unison with other flowers, but this spring, it is late. When it blooms, its purple-blue flowers create visual drama with the yellow and white ones.

Rosa Blanc Double de Coubert is not my favorite plant. I chose it when I had no preconceived ideas how to landscape the area around my deck. The decision to purchase was based upon two factors: It is tall [grows to almost five feet] and intensely fragrant. As a rugosa, [hardy to USDA Zone 3] it is known to bloom continuously throughout the season. Not so for me!  In my garden, it blooms impressively in spring - when its flowers are appreciated because few other perennials are in bloom - and then flowers moderately through summer, when other perennials take center stage.

This plant family is tough, vigorous, disease resistant, and edible. In autumn, rugosas develop decorative red hips used to make tea that is rich in vitamin C [ascorbic acid] as well as jam and jelly. It has been reported that during World War 2, when fruit was scarce, homemade rose hip jam was a valued food item in the U.K. Today, those who consider it a delicacy, still derive pleasure from making it.

My dislike for rugosa roses begins with its thick, woody branches, which are ugly when bare, and continues with the fact that its weapon grade, large thorns are dangerous. Another area of discontent is the suckering of its roots that spread to form nuisance thickets. Thorny groves are inhospitable to adventurous pets and young children looking for a wayward ball. Furthermore, there is no room for thickets in my urban flowerbeds. After four years of thriving politely, this plant has not yet become invasive; there are no suckers at the roots; but I await them with defiance. If they appear, I will remove and discard the plant.

The legginess this plant displays is not an issue for me. I camouflage the bare limbs with later blooming tall perennials such as tall, blue platycodon and phlox paniculata. or early bloomimg peony bushes. When I am in the mood, I will cut the rose’s unsightly woody branches down to the ground so that the plant may regenerate itself.  The ease with which it regrows to its former self is one of its attractive features. This almost instantaneous revival allows gardeners to remove suckering branches easily from the root, to propagate more plant or to reduce the size of the shrub.

The irony of growing this rugosa is that the fragrance for which it was purchased has eluded me. My life style and work responsibilities do not permit me to spend time inhaling its sweet odor. How sad that is; I remember previous generations deliberately making time to appreciate aromatic plants. I also remember being outdoors; doing nothing, while experiencing natures intoxicating fragrances. That occurred while my children were small, when my wife and I would linger at home simply to be a reassuring, visible presence in their lives. How times have changed!