For the Love of Lilac

Lilac (syringa vulgaris) is a species of the olive family (oleaceae).  If you need to make amends, you offer an olive branch, right?  If someone hands you a lilac branch, they must really want to be in your good favor.  

Lilacs are one of the most popular fragrant plants in the world.  If they seem “old fashioned,” it’s because they are old − being introduced in America in the 1750’s, and they’re always fashionable. George Washington had them in his gardens, and since lilacs can live for hundreds of years, maybe some of those very same plants are offshoots.  At the very least, it’s thought-provoking to imagine that while I’m devouring the beauty and fragrance of my lilacs, Martha Washington may have done the same.

Lilacs are deciduous shrubs that can grow upwards to 20’-25’.  They love full sun, prefer a rich humus soil, and don’t like their feet to be wet. Butterflies love them, and even though the blooms only last a couple of weeks, the beauty continues as the lithe heart shaped leaves flutter gracefully in a breeze, and provide welcome shade.  The colors range from white to nearly every shade of purple.

If you’re lucky, you may have a friend that will share a sucker (the offshoot) so you can start your own lilacs.  Sometimes, the Mountain Garden Club plant sale will offer a few potted plants.  When starting new plants from shoots, they’re likely to look wimpy the first year, but lilacs are strong and hearty plants that tend to love cold winters.  Make sure you plant them with room to grow, on top and under the ground-the roots need about six feet to spread out.  Like hydrangeas, lilacs bloom on old wood, so only prune right after they bloom, and cut the cane at the bottom of the plant to ensure better blooms next year.

Patience is a virtue, and growing lilacs may test your patience, as it may take three to five years to see the first blooms.  After you see and smell your first blooms, you’ll wonder why you didn’t plant this beauty long before.  As I write this, I’m reminded of a child’s school play.  The lilac is waiting on stage behind the curtain, just waiting on their cue, while we in the audience are tingling with anticipation.