Enduring Lilacs

Common Syringa vulgaris in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Common Syringa vulgaris (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

The fragrant lavender blooms of heirloom lilacs are opening in abundance; a sure sign of spring and a promise of  many wonderful events to come.  Nothing compares to the beauty and perfume of the syringa family, and there are so many sizes and colors to choose from that no one needs to miss the opportunity to have at least one delicious specimen nearby. 

Violet-Red Lilac Blooms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Violet-Red Lilac Blooms (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Planting a lilac is like planting a piece of history; with the oldest living North American trees dating back to 1750.  With care and pruning, you can expect your lilac (tree) to surpass your lifetime as well.  Although lilacs are a quintessential part of the New England landscape, they are native to Europe and Asia.  The lilac is a genus from approximately 25 species in the olive family, and is closely related to the privet family.  Our popular lilac, Syringa vulgaris, hails from eastern Europe, while the beloved dwarf cultivars, Syringa patula and s. meyeri (to name a few), originate in Asia.  All serve as harbingers of beauty and fragrance in any sunny garden setting that provide its necessary winter dormancy period.

Lilac 'Sensation' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Lilac ‘Sensation’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

My home was built in the 1930’s, and there are two established stands of the violet bloomed, incredibly dependable common Syringa vulgaris.  As they are very tall, the pruning is limited to removing suckering shoots and unhealthy lower limbs, the rest is left to wind and Mother Nature.  A heavy snow took most of one stand, but new growth came up from suckers, and is already over 8′ tall and quite lush.  The heirloom lilacs are much more vigorous than newer introductions, extremely drought tolerant and mildew resistant.  I have noticed that the bloom is more intense every other year, which I am told is similar to fruit trees.  Common syringa vulgaris trees can be expected to grow up to 20′ tall and 30′ wide at maturity, and are very hardy in zones 2-9.  I adore the smaller Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ (10′ tall), although not as fragrant as grandmother syringa, it has the most dramatic plum purple flowers edged in white and is zoned hardy from 3-7.

Xena Can't Wait for 'Tinkerbelle' to Open in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Xena Can’t Wait for ‘Tinkerbelle’ to Open (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

For smaller locales, as a hedge (remember privet lineage) or in a garden setting, Korean dwarf lilacs (most zoned 4-7) fit the bill for versatility and durability.  A few of the popular petite lilacs are Syringa pubescens subsp. patula ‘Miss Kim’, which has lavender blooms and is capable of growing up to 8′ tall and wide, and Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’, with pale pink blossoms and a smaller size of 5′ tall and wide.  Another lovely dwarf worth considering is the Tinkerbelle lilac, syringa ‘Bailbelle’ (also 5 X 5), with buds the shade of wine, opening to a very rich pink.   All  have intensely scented flowers that appear just as the tree lilac’s last fragrant petals fall, and with adequate rainfall, my ‘Miss Kim’ reblooms with a second flush of delightfully aromatic clusters in summer.  Then there’s Bloomerang, a smaller (4′ X 4′) Proven Winner’s creative mix of four species: patulamacrophylla x meyeri x juliana, which blooms in spring and reblooms in summer with suggested fertilizing and pruning.

Alas, my garden would not be complete without a few of these grape blossomed jewels honoring me with their heady scent each spring.  Once you’ve sniffed one, I’m sure you will feel the same.                  

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