Every year it happens, the moment we anticipate for months. The lilacs in full bloom spread their aroma with generous abandon, part their inflorescences just enough for us to bring them close and inhale. The lilacs are a thing of wonder. They bring back memories while enfolding us in a present that is wondrous to live in.
The lilac shrubs are large and you can't have them in every garden here in Cambridge, where we live together cheek to jowl. So they are a semi-public thing, marking street corners and creating a landscape of scent. As much as I love the lilacs and their aroma there's something else in the garden this time of year, something more pungent, something even shorter-lasting, but a plant unsurpassed in the olfactory sensation it provides.
Searching at ground level for snails I encounter the close landscape of the garden surface. Down there, rising about a foot in the morning stillness, the lilies of the valley pour their scent into the immediate atmosphere. You have to love them or hate them, but for less than a week in May they are the stars of the garden. Their aroma is truly a wall, something you run into and dazed, can't leave. As a mass they are incredible, individually less exotic-smelling.
And they are invasive. As the years go by they expand their aromatic territory like the solid underground biomass they comprise. Every year I take out a few shovelfuls, just to open a little space in between the troops. Trying to stop their march seems impossible, at least to a human. I leave it to the other plants to block their advance. But stopping them is not part of my agenda, at least not this week as they favor the garden with their enveloping aroma.