Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's Lilac Time

Syringa vulgaris -- it sounds like something a mad doctor would wield in a horror movie....but that is actually the Latin name for common Lilacs.

Lilacs are dependable and mostly carefree, can be structural in the landscape, are covered with blooms in the late spring, and can provide scent to your whole garden....(or half the neighborhood if the plant is large enough or the variety has a partcularly strong perfume).

Lilac scent is strong and intoxicating....If your Grandmother grew lilacs, or you otherwise had their distinctive fragrance imprinted on you as a small child -- every year when you catch a whiff of that unmistakable heady aroma, you are immediately transported back to childhood and those innocent springtime's of youth.

Lilacs are generally thought of as fairly old fashioned, even a bit fuddy duddy, in the modern horticultural vernacular of decorative grasses and streamlined exotica.....however, they can be anything but that.

New hybrids bring a range of exciting colors to the traditional lavender purple Lilac tone, adding options for whites, yellows, deep black-purple, burgundy, and even red. Bi-colors, and fluffy double blossoms add even more options.

The term French Lilac is often used to refer to modern double-flowered cultivars, thanks to the work of prolific breeder Victor Lemoine. Botanically, French Lilacs are no different than Common Lilacs. In the vernacular, however, the term often is used for varieties that are fairly large plants, and the colorations on the flowers tend to be darker in tone that what we think of with traditional lilacs.

Different species of lilac can be quite unusual, and look (and behave) very differently than the traditional 'lilac near Aunt Jen's back door' that most of us think of. Syringa Patula -- a lovely compact form, with small leaves, and delicate dimunitive single blooms -- combined with a huge strong scent, is a particular favorite in MrMartha's garden. One small bush, of the varietal "Miss Kim", blasts out more fragrance than MrMarthas other two very large lilac bushes combined.

Some interesting additional facts about Lilacs:

Lilacs symbolize love in the Language of flowers, and in years past were frequently part of spring bridal bouquets.

In Greece, Lebanon, and Cyprus, the lilac is strongly associated with Eastertime because it flowers around that time; it is consequently called paschalia.

Syringa vulgaris is the state flower of New Hampshire, because it "is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State" (New Hampshire Revised Statute Annotated (RSA) 3:5).

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is a poem written by Walt Whitman as an elegy to Abraham Lincoln.

If you would like some additional information about growing and caring for Lilacs, The Harvard Arboretum has some great information.

If you would like to view some interesting and unusual Lilac varieties to add to your own garden or landscape, Nature Hills Nursery has a great gallery.