The Lovely Lilac

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.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

The smell of moist earth and lilacs in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future. 

-Margaret Miller


Planning Next Year’s Garden

As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting.  On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have.  Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form.  If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.

I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders.  I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers.  Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.

Gardens separated by fences
Gardens separated by fences:


After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings.  It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac.  Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.

Landscape design with trees and shrubs

Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so.  Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved.  This is not the case with trees and shrubs.  It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed.  A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender.  This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.

Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape.  Some plants, like hostas and coral bells,  are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color.   However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time.  It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season.  To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters.  Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.


Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will  give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still.  It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet

Is It An Evergreen Or A Conifer?

“I love evergreens. Or is it a conifer? I don’t know! I’m confused.”  I heard statements like this many times over the years while I was working at the garden nursery. It’s understandable. These terms are easily misunderstood and some plants are both. Let me explain.

What Are Evergreens?

Evergreens are plants that hold their needles or leaves throughout the year. Evergreen simply means the plant does not go dormant at any time during the year.  The plant stays “green”, or rather, it holds its leaves or needles and photosynthesis does not cease, although growth usually slows or stops all together.  Plants that are evergreen may vary depending on which climate zone you live in.  Some plants are evergreen in warmer climates and deciduous in colder climates. Others plants are evergreen no matter which zone you live in. Evergreens can include such plants as pine, spruce, holly, juniper, viburnum, bay leaf, camellia, lavender -the list goes on and on.

Buffalo Juniper
Buffalo Juniper photo by Wanette Lenling

In contrast to evergreens, deciduous plants lose their leaves and go dormant during certain times of the year.  For example, maple and oak trees generally go dormant in Fall and all their leaves drop to the ground.  Anyone who has to clean up leaves in Fall knows this concept well.

Then What Are Conifers?

The word “conifer” literally means “cone bearing”, so conifers are plants that reproduce by growing a cone to hold their seeds rather than producing a flower.  The class Coniferinae includes such plants as spruce, pine, and juniper.  But this class also includes plants that drop their needles or leaves like the tamarisk, larch, bald cypress, and dawn redwood.  Conifers that drop their leaves or needles are called deciduous conifers, meaning they shed all their needles or leaves at certain times of the year but they still produce cones.

Black Hills Spruce
Black Hills Spruce photo by Wanette Lenling

So What Are Evergreen Conifers Then?

Simple. Evergreen conifers are plants that produce cones and hold their needles or leaves all year round.  This would include such plants as spruce, pine, yews, and junipers.

Globe Blue Spruce
Globe Blue Spruce photo by Wanette Lenling

There you have it.  The answer to the conifer/evergreen conundrum. No matter what you call them, they are amazing plants that are absolutely gorgeous and fun to grow. These plants can be giants, like the ancient dawn redwood which can grow up to 60 feet in height or more, or teeny tiny plants like the Mitsch Mini Mugo Pine that grow to only 14 inches tall. If you have never grown evergreens or conifers, I highly recommend trying it. There are so many to choose from, you are bound to find one (or two!) that you love.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“The pine stays green in winter…wisdom in hardship.”

 – Norman Douglas