new lilac slideshow: call me old-fashioned!

godlight11THERE ARE MORE THAN 2,000 NAMED LILAC CULTIVARS, and I grow just a handful. But in early May, I feel as if I’m positively surrounded by them–one of the great joys of a Northern garden, where the climate suits these popular spring shrubs. You won’t find any with silly modern names here (I know, the recent “reblooming” variety ‘Bloomerang’ is all the rage) because I like my lilacs to not just look and smell but also sound old-fashioned. Like these beauties, in an updated Syringa slideshow:

Click on the first thumbnail to start the slides, then toggle from image to image using the arrows on your keyboard or beside each caption. Enjoy!

Learn More About Lilacs

  • “Lilacs,” by Father John Fiala (from Timber Press), an encyclopedia of the genus by a top breeder.
  • The International Lilac Society website (where to visit prominent collections, retail and wholesale sources, more).
  • Lilac pruning (article by Jeff Jabco, from Fine Gardening).
  • What? Can’t live without a ‘Bloomerang’ in your garden? Read about it here. The late Father Fiala never would have chosen such an unromantic name!
  1. Matriarchy says:

    Lovely! I have a little “Miss Kim” by the front steps, which smells wonderful but doesn’t give me the satisfaction of a full-sized lilac. I am renovating a neglected yard, and there is an old half-dead lilac in a corner. It produced one bloom this year. Nice color, but too high up to smell it. Think I should I try to rejuvenate that shrub or just dig it up and buy a new specimen?

  2. Nolie Freeman says:

    Being a creature of habit, I can’t get used to plants outside their usual context – daffodils, magnolias, and lilacs in Spring, roses and bearded iris in June, lilies in July, and Fall colors in Fall. Boomerang (among other always blooming new introductions) just doesn’t hold any appeal for me (like Christmas in July). I love the anticipation of looking forward to garden rewards. Too much of a good thing, might be too much of a good thing, thus losing preciousness for this old-fashioned gardener.

  3. hnybnch says:

    I’m in lilac heaven a little south of you and with only (!) 3 old unnamed lilacs. I found the lilac pruning article a few years ago and went at it with gusto and have been rewarded many times over. My lilacs are now about 2/3 rejuvenated and one of them took care of the remaining third by breaking the oldest trunk at the base during heavy thundershowers this past weekend. Had to bring all those blooms inside – quel dommage.

  4. Joanna says:

    I love lilac season too and ours will be a week or so later than yours but they are certainly coming. I found out last year that they make quite a nice tea and can be dried for coughs according to my Latvian friend

  5. Kaveh says:

    Lilacs give me a horrible headache but that doesn’t stop me from going and smelling every single blooming Lilac if I am in a botanical garden with a collection of them.

  6. Just put a bunch in water here, along with some stems of bleeding heart and purple tulips. Perhaps my favorite bouquet of the entire year. Your photos inspire me to seek more varieties! Gorgeous.

  7. Linda says:

    I LOVE LILACS, ours are just starting to bud out here in Minnesota, I can’t wait. I am usually up in Northern Minnesota at my sisters on vacation for the week, it’s only a couple of weeks away. She has many lilac bushes that open up when I arrive. I pick to my hearts content. I can’t wait. If you are reading this Rita, I will be there soon.

  8. Deborah says:

    I love seeing the pictures of all your lilacs. I’m trying to start a lilac hill, and learned last year that the deer enjoy eating the fancy cultivars, even though they ignore the common lilacs. This wasn’t when they were starving in February either. They ate my small bushes to the ground last summer. Thankfully lilacs are tough and all came back fine, but as a result I still have a ways to go to achieve full-sized lilacs. Mine are all now in cages, which I am hoping I can remove when they’re big. My favorite lilac is Beauty of Moscow, which has pink buds opening into a white double bloom tinged in pink. It blooms in early to mid-May.

  9. Ariel Bock says:

    Thank you for the beautiful and informative slide show. Lilacs have been favorites

    since I was a kid- and I used to pick large bunches to put in my room. I always

    wondered why they would wilt so fast- now I see the remedy! I have read that

    Alexandra, the last Russian Empress, planted a whole park of lilacs at Tsarskoe Selo,

    near St Petersburg. I am reminded of how comforting the color and scent of lilacs

    can be, especially after a long winter.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ariel. Woody plants are hard to hydrate when used as cut flowers, so conditioning them this way does generally help with moisture uptake. Thanks for sharing your lilac memories and thoughts of historic lilac gardens — such beloved plants! Many are native to the Balkans and thereabouts (some to Asia) so I am interested to hear of the Russian story. Thanks!

  10. Rachelle says:

    Some nice lilacs, but barely touched the species. Here in central WIsconsin some lilacs appears to be resistant to the downy mildewwhich is so common here and troubles the old-fashioned ones.

    Donald Wyman, Beauty of Moscow, Miss Kim, Miss Canada, Korean lilacs, Japanese tree lilac…just a few of my favorites.

  11. Tricia says:

    Blanche Sweet was a beautiful and beloved actress of the silent era who (alas) did not have much of a career after sound came. She was ethereal and lovely and it makes me (a film historian) happy to know there is a lilac named for her. Sweet’s heyday was almost a hundred years ago now.

    Am adding a reference to a website that has some lovely pictures of her:


  12. Patricia says:

    Of all the things I feel nostalgic about, lilacs has to rank up near the top. Growing up in Ohio, spring meant lilacs. Now I live in Southern California and while our farmer’s markets will showcase lilacs in the spring months, they do not have the size nor the fragrance of what we had in Ohio. Thank you for this lovely display!

  13. kristi says:

    Modern and lilac are a complete contradiction. We have a row along our house that my father remembers from childhood. They are beautifully twisted from the wind, I wouldn’t insult them by planting a “Bloomerang” near by.

    Beautiful photos as usual.

  14. Lisa says:

    I have to agree with others, that the beauty of many flowers is their timing. I don’t want a lilac in the fall. I planted a reblooming iris, and was really bothered by its bloom in August. It just wasn’t right. Iris belong with bleeding hearts and peonies, not coneflowers and sedum.

  15. Daisy Marshall says:

    How I look forward to these side shows, and if this is the only way l can smell the lilacs, all the better! Haven’t had much rain here in S Fla so the gardens are in great need (I am sure mother nature will more than make it up to us later on) the Bird of Paradise in front of our building is a beautiful site. But back to your lilacs and the comments of all, it’s blooms in my soul. Thank you Margaret.

  16. Mary Anne Lisac says:

    Thank you for the wonderful slideshow. Forty years ago today my husband and I were married. Having very little money for flowers at the church, we used white baskets and filled them with lilacs. The little country church looked beautiful. We are reminded of this simple joy every May.

  17. I love lilacs, too, and they grow in abundance here in Ohio. Nearby Defiance has a lilac festival every spring, and the Master Gardeners give out small seedlings. I have one from the first festival I attended (three years ago) and it’s doing quite well. I’ve got several varieties, including a white one that shares the exact same space as an old peony that had disappeared for many years, only to reappear. We call it the Peolac. It just shows the tenacity of both of the plants.

    I succumbed to the wiles of ‘Bloomerang’ this spring. We’ll see how it does…

  18. mihaela cobb says:

    What a feast for the eyes !
    i was doing a search on lilacs when I came across your blog and since then I’ve been hooked. You’re inspiring me to tackle our new house’s yard which short of a few mature trees doesn’t has too much going on. Hard and long work but oh boy! so rewarding! If there is a heaven and if I’ll go there, send me to the gardening department for I cannot imagine a better way to spend the eternity.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Mihaela, and welcome. “The Gardening Department” does sound like the place to end up (and live, too, until such a time comes). :)

  19. Karen Moran says:

    My all-time-favorite flower is the lilac. Unfortunately the climate I live in has too mild of winters for the plants to bloom and I end up with bushy, leggy plants with no flowers. Not the desired effect I hoped for at all! As I was lamenting my loss to a fellow gardener, she looked at me in surprise and said, “Why here in Texas, crepe myrtles are our lilacs!” “Hogwash,” I thought to myself. “Crepe myrtles are beautiful, they don’t hold a candle to lilacs.”

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen, and I agree. Crape myrtles are beautiful, but lack the extra something (scent!) that makes lilacs so endearing. See you soon again, I hope.

  20. chris says:

    i have very little property. like really small. i built raised stone borders (two feet high, two feet width). please tell me i can put lilacs there. i hate the dwarf series. been there already. if i keep cutting them back when you should, can i keep them manageable. fab shots.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Chris. So 2×2 and on top of the actual ground that the roots can go into as well? I suspect the root systems will upend your stone work, and that the plants will dry out very fast, too. You might get away with something like ‘Little Boy Blue’ (gets to 6 feet high) but the standard-sized vulgaris types would far overgrow that space (their root systems I mean).

  21. val gillman says:

    Just this year I’ve been interested in species lilacs. I’ve ordered several. One I’m especially excited about is a pink with hanging flowers that D. Hinkley brought home(bless him and people like him!)
    Where did you find the hyacinthifloras? All lilacs are so pristine! I love their bare legs-perfect for little vines. Later.

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