As a child, one of my favorite things was to step outside and breathe in the sweet smell of lilacs in bloom after the rain. The intense fragrance from the long hedge of lilac shrubs sheltering one corner of our yard would fill the air. To this day, I have a fondness for these lovely underappreciated shrubs with their gorgeous blossoms and oh-so-sweet fragrance.
Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) originated in Eastern Europe and Asia where they have been cultivated in gardens for thousands of years. These shrubs were brought to the United States by European settlers as early as the 1700’s. Lilacs generally grow in zones 3 through 7 because the plants need a period of cold in order to thrive, however, there are a few newer cultivars that will grow in slightly warmer conditions.
Lilacs have been hybridized to produce shrubs in a variety of colors and textures. For example, the flowers of the cultivar ‘President Grevy’, have a deep rich violet color that rest on large panicle blossoms held up by sturdy branches with large smooth dark heart-shaped leaves. The perfume of this lilac is strong and delightful, very much the traditional lilac fragrance. This variety can be pruned into a small tree to create a focal point and it doesn’t produce suckers at the base of the plant like the common lilac. Unhindered, it can grow to eleven feet tall and eight feet wide. This cultivar produces blooms only once per year.
In contrast to the substantial look of the ‘President Grevy’, a newer lilac cultivar, Syringa ‘Josée’, is much smaller with a maximum height of around six feet tall. It has small heart-shaped leaves on dainty branches which support a profusion of delicate light pink rose-scented blossoms. The wonderful attribute of this new cultivar aside from its lovely scent is that it will produce flowers a second time during the summer after the initial spring blossoms.
The one drawback to the lilac shrub is that it may cause an allergic reaction in some people. But, there are many other shrubs to choose from with equally beautiful and wonderful traits. If lilac allergy is an issue, try a mock orange shrub. It has beautiful white single or double blooms and a fragrance that rivals the sweetness of the lilac perfume. If scent isn’t a priority but bloom time is, spirea shrubs, which bloom nearly all summer long, come in blossom colors ranging from white to pink to near red. Even the variety of foliage is impressive with colors ranging from yellow to lime green to deep green to red and the leaf shapes come in nearly any form you can imagine. Spirea shrubs also attract pollinating insects like bees and butterflies for gardeners wishing to attract wildlife.
Lilacs in all their varieties are one of my favorite blooming plants. The fragrance of a lilac blossom alone is worth the effort of planting this wonderful shrub. Don’t be afraid to use lilacs and other shrubs in your garden along with your flowers. It will not only add visual appeal but delight the olfactory senses by adding their sweet fragrance to the garden air.
Quote of the Day
The smell of moist earth and lilacs in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future.