Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Lilac Season

"To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.
~Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)

I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t appreciate the fragrance of lilacs. Usually it brings a smile to one’s face and memories of Grandma’s garden. Lilacs have been in gardens forever, it seems.

Lilacs (Syringa) reportedly prefer alkaline soil but here in the Pacific Northwest we are known for our acidic soil, and my lilacs don’t give the impression they mind. Their zonal preferences seem to be all over the northern hemisphere, found in Middle Eastern, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, North American and European locals. In the hottest areas they apparently prefer some shade from the hottest sun and reportedly bloom best after a pronounced winter chill, with some blooming just fine with only a light chilling.

Lilacs bloom on old wood, meaning this year’s flowers were formed last year, and next years flowers will form in the months following current bloom. So if you cut off the spent flower clusters, as I do, you want to do it right away after blooming so as not to damage flower production for next year.

My garden was already charmed by an ordinary lilac tree (Syringa vulgaris no doubt) when I became caretaker 24 years ago and the house is over 100 years old now. I have no idea when this lilac was planted but whoever did so, kept the suckers controlled which allowed it to become a graceful tree. The same light purple variety is in many gardens in my neighborhood, and they are all huge sprawling shrubs with new suckers adding to their girth annually. I much preferred the tree shape, which means originally only one stem was allowed to thicken into a real trunk, so I too kept any extra suckers trimmed out, an annual task. One local gardening expert once said lilacs kept in this way usually only live 50 years or so. About 5 years ago mine began to get large fungi growing horizontally on the lower trunk portion, a good indication it was dying. So I allowed 2 new suckers to grow, and it took the tree about 2 or 3 years to finally die and the trunk to rot out but the 2 new suckers soldiered on to give me my tree back. Today it looks like this. I’m thrilled to have saved the original root, and in a few years it should be as full as before. It is already nearly as tall.

I was looking to add height and structure to my sunny, side garden and decided more fragrant lilacs would be wonderful. As I looked into it, no one could promise a variety that doesn’t sucker. Having a small garden and not wanting to give up any space to suckering plants, only a tree shape would allow more garden space for planting underneath. Then I found out about the Hulda Klager lilac farm in Woodland Washington. What a gem! If you love lilacs, and find yourself anywhere in western Washington (or Oregon for that matter) you must treat yourself to an April/May visit of Hulda’s treasure trove. Do plan on the whole day if you live more than an hour away and do bring a picnic lunch to enjoy under the lilacs or wisteria on the grounds of this historic farm.

The Hulda Klager Lilac Garden is a national landmark and was saved from destruction by local resident gardeners who didn’t want to see her work of hybridizing lilacs vanish. She had an interesting life and a passion for lilacs which you can read about on the website link…just click on her name to learn more. Better yet…go visit. Her 1880’s homestead has been restored and some of her personal belongings remain on display. The Hulda Klager Lilac Society has been set up to maintain the grounds and farmhouse, has garden meetings, lilac sales and a gift shop. All proceeds fund the operation, maintenance and continuance of her homestead and her legacy.

I planned my trip to coincide with their annual lilac festival. After enjoying the entire garden, I asked one of the volunteers if there was a non-suckering variety. She thought a minute and said yes, named 2 or 3 possible choices but said for sure Adelaide Dunbar (top picture) does not sucker. We walked over to where several Adelaides stood proudly in their pots and let me tell you, she’s gorgeous! Her new spring leaves are medium green with a tint of deep burgundy that turns all green with age. If that’s not enough, her flower buds are a rich, deep magenta/violet that lighten as they open and more so as they age, so the whole cluster has at least 3 differing tones within. That coupled with the two-tone leaves…well, I just had to make two of them mine right there and then, no dithering about it.

They are currently planted on both sides of the sidewalk near the front porch steps. My idea was that they would arch across toward each other…time will tell if that indeed happens. Even if not, my twin Adelaides are a beauty to behold every spring, both to the eye and nose.

In bloom in my garden today: Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’,Blueberry 'Sunshine Blue, Mtn Ash, Lily of the Valley, Chives, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Viburnum davidii, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Wisteria, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Heather, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Authors Photos


Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

OK, now here's one I can finally say that I actually have in my 'garden' (it was part of the landscaping done in our yard by the previous owners of our home). I LOVE LOVE LOVE lilacs and adore the fragrance. I wish it would last longer - I'm always sad when the beautiful smell goes away each year!

Joan said...

Hi Shari
Yes, Lilacs do come and go quickly, don't they? Do you bring any in for a vase to enjoy indoors? Sometimes I do but often they are done by the time I think about it.

Cindy said...

oh my gosh...that's what my yard is missing! more fragrance.

right now it's citrus (which is AMAZING) and soon some gardenias...and my roses in the front...

but lilacs! YES. perfect. not sure if they like my climate though. will need to check it out.

a work friend, who is now retired, had an AMAZING lilac bush at her home and each season she brought some in and it drove me nuts. I wanted to just inhale the plant.

I hope your two bushes make an arch...that would be so sweet!


Joan said...

Citrus and gardenia! Ohhh what wonderful fragrance! I had a hardy gardenia here once, but it slunk away after a couple of years.
No doubt I'll try one again some day.

What zone are you? 10 or 12? No problem for lilacs in CA I think.

Ohhh, another excuse for some shopping?!!! Yay

Cindy said...

by george I think you are right! bees will like lilacs, no?

I don't remember what zone...i'll have to go look it up.

thanks for such a great idea! forgot all about them!

Joan said...

Ya know I've never seen any kind of bee on my lilacs, but we can plant them for our enjoyment.

Honey bees have shorter tongues than bumble bees so you'll see bumbles on a larger variety of flowers than honey bees.

I've never seen honey bees on my wisteria but do see mason bees on it.

If a honey bee is on a flower it depends on if it can get it's shorter tongue into the nectar...also perhaps if it likes the nectar. It definately also has to do with'll see more bees in a large patch of something rather than a single bush. I have ton's of flowers to choose from but mostly my bees are not in my yard, because I have a garden of single varieties, one of this and one of that.

I do know they LOVE California Lilac which isn't a lilac at all, it is the blue flowering Ceanothus. My bees go to my neighbor's shrub down the a matter of fact they are usually in her yard enjoying something I don't have.