In the Garden Now ... Common Lilac

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Purple Lilac

Fragrant Common Lilac
Text and photos by Victoria Gilleland

One of the unforgettable mother - daughter memories I have of my childhood is of walking down the perfume aisle of a department store with my mother, Minnie. She always managed to find the most intensely fragrant flowery scent in the store. That scent was often Lilac. She would splash it on her wrists or spray it on her lapel with glee. And if I wasn’t careful she’d hit me with a spray or two. Everyone in the family knew they had to beware when walking through the perfume department with Minnie! A whiff of the flowers of these blooming lilacs took me back to that place and time.

Lilacs were introduced to the Americas in the 18th Century. Over the years they have been hybridized so that there are hundreds of varieties available in a variety of colors including purple, burgundy, blue, white and creamy yellow. Scents vary from lightly floral to rich and spicy. If you’re choosing a lilac for your garden you might want to check them out while they are in bloom so you can experience the scent. Lilacs tend to flower heavily in alternate years. They may bloom more consistently if blossoms are deadheaded when spent.

White Lilac

Remember that lilacs bloom on wood from the previous season’s growth. They should be pruned immediately after flowering in spring so that the shrub has time to regrow and form flower buds for the following year’s bloom. If a plant becomes overgrown gardeners sometimes remove 1/3 of the largest and oldest stems at the plant base. If the plant is not pruned regularly and becomes very tall with most of the blooms appearing on the plant above the 6 feet where they can’t be easily enjoyed, plants can be renewal pruned to ground level. You may not have many flowers for a couple of years after this severe pruning, but you will eventually have a much more attractive shrub with flowers you can easily see and enjoy for their scent and color. It’s hard to kill a lilac bush so if your shrub needs pruning go for it!

This easy to grow spring flowering shrub likes sun and is drought tolerant once established. In fact lilacs are often among the surviving plants at an abandoned or neglected homestead. Exactly when a lilac will bloom is dependent on variety, the weather, and growing conditions both in the region and within the garden.

If you love the look and scent of lilacs but space is limited consider growing a dwarf variety such as “Miss Kim” or “Tinkerbell” in a container. These wonderful plants are essentially miniatures of the original Common Purple Lilac but with their own unique scents. In my garden “Miss Kim” has grown to 4 x 4 feet in 15 years. Very compact!

Lilacs are one of the most fragrant flowers in the spring garden. Breathe deep. The scent of spring is in the air!

 (Botanical Name:  Syringa vulgaris)

Victoria Gilleland is the owner of Cottage Garden Designs, a Garden Design company specializing in Redesign of Residential Gardens, Garden Consultation and Coaching. She has been designing gardens in the northwest for over 20 years.  


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