Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lilacs - Scents of Spring

The scent of lilac blossoms holds a special place for many. Often times a scent is associated with a memory, Grandmother’s perfume (or toilet water), picking bouquets with mom or for me growing up with a white lilac tree that grew just outside my bedroom window.

Warm spring breezes carried the heavenly lilac scent in my room morning till night while the old tree bloomed holding the promise of summer just around the corner.

My pet raccoon Shirley loved that old tree as well, hiding all things ‘shiny’ that she would steal from us when she thought we weren’t looking in a rotted out knot just out of my reach.

When I started renovating the gardens at Hyssop Hill in Franklin, TN shortly after purchasing the 1830’s house and property, I found old plant jewels that were thought to be lost. As we cut and beat back the growth of Mother Time, trees and plants would revive or germinate once they had sun, space and water once more.

One such find was Lilac trees that had been planted by Mrs. Thomas Henderson when she and Capt. Tom lived there. Two different lilac trees came back up along the path to the back garden. One of the Henderson’s grandchildren stopped by one day and told me about Grandmother’s friend, Helen Keller who use to stay with the Hendersons when she came to Franklin to learn about her family who fought in the battle of Franklin in 1867.

George (the grandson) explained that Ms. Keller could identify each lilac by their scent as she would walk out to the garden with Mrs. Henderson. He explained there were several lilac trees at that time and was happy we had recovered two of them.

I left the lilac trees at Hyssop Hill (now Collins Farm) when we moved but I did take a small piece of each tree that had suckered and I’m so glad I did because they disappeared like so many of the historic plants from that estate. Ignorance, naivety, or perhaps a lack of historic importance was placed on the horticulture of such a significant piece of Franklin’s history.

One of the lilac trees seems to be very ordinary in form, color, scent…the other one is incredible in scent, blue-lavender color blooms that seem to be doubled – If anyone can identify these please help.

I have three other lilacs in my current garden. This one was cut back to the ground when a screened-in porch was added four years ago. It has since grown back and in full bloom this year.

A Miss Kim is almost in bloom and is covered this year. This lilac has a compact rounded shape and blooms later than all the others in my yard.

I also have a white juvenile lilac that a friend gave me which I think will bloom next year. (Something to look forward to)

If you are crazy about lilacs make plans to visit Mackanaw (Mackinac) Island in Northern Michigan for their annual lilac festival. It takes place the first part of June. The festival lasts ten days with all kinds of activities and events but the lilacs, many of them planted in the 1800’s are the star of this show. This website gives all the details -

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