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Lilacs & Rain: Sweet Spring Scents

Just as I prepared to head out into the garden to do a block-leveling project, a light spring rain blew up. The skies darkened a little and, as I opened the door to estimate the storm’s power, the most amazing scents met me. Nothing smells as fresh a spring rain. Try as they might to capture the smell of “fresh,” makers of dryer sheets and air fresheners cannot match the delicious breeze that came in my door.

The other scent which cannot be accurately imitated is lilac. Perfumes can hint at the smell of lilac, but real lilac scent is different– very sweet, but not sticky. Our lilac bushes opened last evening and their almost overwhelming scent greets us as we go out the back door.

Several years ago, a couple of fellows came through our neighborhood, which is an historical district with a lot of 100+ year old homes, and asked at several homes if they might dig in the backyard. They were masters of the unusual hobby of “privy digging.” It seems in olden times, back yard outhouses were like mini-landfills. People discarded old bottles and such in the outhouse. These fellows had become practiced at predicting the site of former outhouses (usually straight from the back door to the fence line). They would dig a few feet, then use long poles to poke for treasures. They dug carefully, like archaeologists, and brought up some old bottles and other glass. Often the pieces aren’t in good shape, but they occasionally make some good finds. Their deal was that they’d split the findings with the homeowners. (I’m not sure these are the guys we met, but they might be! Their extensive website will provide all the know-how you need to take up this hobby!)

What I found really interesting was that their other trick for locating the former sites of privies or outhouses was looking near the lilac bushes at the property edge. Lilacs were planted near outhouses because of their lovely strong scent and the fact that they come into bloom right around the time that the world starts to thaw. I gained new respect for our 100 year old lilac that day.

Posted in • Growing.