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AS I'VE GOTTEN to know Peter Lassig - the chief gardener on Temple Square - I've come to see the garden he tends as more than a spiritual amusement park. It is a small village, really; "Flower Town," if you will, complete with lovable eccentrics, rebels and solid citizens. In short, all the "types" you find in human society also show up in flower society.

Every flower and every face, it seems, tells a story.Like this little story Peter shared with me.

Twenty years ago, a courtly old gentleman named Karl Larsen gave the Temple Square crew a call. He'd spent his entire life raising lilacs. They were his passion. And he'd spent most of his waking hours trying to create hybrids.

Now, Karl Larsen was getting ready to die.

"My life is at an end now," he told Peter. "My wife is gone and my children have gone out into the world. In all my years of trying I was only able to hybridize one lilac. And I have named it in honor of my wife. I call it the Lady Euarda Lilac. It is the best thing I did in this life. Would the church like to have it?"

Peter said "of course." And he drove to the Larsen home to get it. By the time Peter arrived, however, the old gentleman was having second thoughts. He was moving to a new place and just couldn't part with his Lady Euarda. He wanted to take it along with him. So, like Solomon, the old man suggested a compromise. They would split the plant in half. He would take part of it with him and Peter could take the other part. Peter quickly smelled disaster but reluctantly agreed. Then he watched as Karl Larsen took an ax and split his own life's work in two.

The Larsen part of the plant died almost immediately. Soon after, Karl Larsen himself followed the plant to the grave.

As for the Temple Square sprig, Peter planted it next to the east wall on Temple Square and waited.

Five years went by. Nothing happened. Ten years. Still nothing. Finally, when 15 years had come and gone, Peter decided it was time to give up on Karl Larsen's legacy and his tribute to Lady Euarda.

Then a curious thing happened.

"It bloomed," says Peter. "It was a wonderful, passionate, wine-red color and was twice as large as most lilac blooms. When you see it, it knocks your socks off. I couldn't believe it."

Not long ago a company - Native Plants Inc. - came to Temple Square for some cuttings of the plant. There's talk of Lady Euarda going national now, maybe even international.

"This spring it bloomed its heart out again and was more beautiful than ever," Peter told me. He expects to hear from other people who saw the lilac this spring and will want cuttings.

"Fifteen years went by, Peter," I said. "What's the explanation?"

"That's easy," Peter said. Then he added that wise little "wink" to his voice that will forever make him Peter.

"It's all about holy ground," he said.