Every spring I look forward to my lilacs. I have a clump each of purple and white. Their bloom is short lived but is worth every breath. My apologies to gardenia, jasmine, magnolia, osmanthus and a few others, but lilac is my favorite floral aroma.
I look forward to cutting a few and placing them in a vase on the dining room table. They are now showing color and awaiting my shears. I always look forward to seeing how much time passes before Roberta notices. It’s never very long.
The smell of lilac brings back so many memories. I dug my purple lilac from my grandfather’s farm. I idolized him and he was best man at my wedding thirty-two years ago. Every time I see a lilac, particularly a purple one I think of him.
In the cooler climate of southern Maine his lilacs were glorious. When I was a kid blooming lilacs also signaled peak trout fishing and fiddlehead foraging. My grandfather was always game for either one. He always cut purple lilacs for interior enjoyment too.
I’ve struggled to keep that purple lilac of mine healthy over the years. Hurricane Isabel took down my neighbor’s large cedar tree that provided necessary afternoon shade. Summer heat and encroaching trumpet vine have pestered it ever since, but my grandfather’s lilac is hanging in there.
I brought my white lilac back from West Virginia. I dug it up from my wife’s parents’ property. We planted it at the northwest corner of the house and it is shaded during the heat of the day by the house and a huge sycamore tree.
Ezra and Elliose have both passed, but the fragrance of that white lilac brings back fond memories. It’s funny how plants can keep these feelings alive.
We are a little too far south for lilacs to thrive. Keeping them is usually a struggle, so it’s satisfying to have them in the landscape for so long. These fragrant beauties must have some sun to grow and flower, but too much will be their downfall. In northern climates they usually can be found growing in full sun.
Lilacs require at least six hours of sunlight for optimal bloom, but here in eastern North Carolina they can’t handle mid-day sun. They struggle in acid soils and also can’t tolerate wet feet.
As is true with most spring blooming species, lilacs flower on the previous season’s wood. Therefore, they should be pruned shortly after blooming. They also benefit from severe pruning from time to time particularly in the south. Younger vigorous growth is best.
Many people like lilac but have trouble growing them. If you like small trees that favor lilac there is an option. I have a few vitex in my yard and at school, and they have somewhat of a lilac appearance. They are about the same size and flower clusters look similar. Vitex even bloom for a much longer period and are easier to grow. They just don’t stimulate the olfactory senses the same way.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).