The name of Stephen and Nick Duffy’s folk rock band keeps on springing to mind as I wander round the streets at this time of year, catching the heady fragrance of lilac on the air, full of eastern promise.
For most of the year, lilac (Syringa) is an uninspiring shrub, but in late April, early May, the reason for having this in your garden becomes clear. I would like to thank the gardeners of yore who planted these in their front gardens, allowing me to take a deep sniff on my way past today.
According to The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University (arboretum.harvard.edu), of the 20-plus species of lilac, two come from Europe and the rest from Asia. The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) heralds from Eastern Europe and was cultivated by the French, so that France became synonymous with fine hybrid lilacs. Syringa x persica, the smaller Persian lilac, came to Europe from the gardens of the Ottomans – I like to imagine merchants carrying this precious living cargo along the Silk Road.
My trusty Reader’s Digest ‘The Gardening Year’ says that lilacs thrive in full sun and a deep loamy soil. They should not be pruned except to remove deadheads and thin out weak shoots.
Christopher Lloyd and Richard Bird suggest in ‘The Cottage Garden’: “Lilac is a dull and ungainly shrub when out of flower, so grow a climber or two through it, perhaps the purple Clematis x jackmanii or the hawthorn-scented C. flammula, with a great mass of tiny, star-like white blossom in late summer.”
For now, however, the lilac is in beautiful bloom – so enjoy the lilac time and don’t forget to inhale.