Did you notice how the warmth intensified the sultry smell of lilacs, in the 80-plus degree weather, for a few days? It was particularly noticeable when the sun began to go down, towards the ends of the days in late May. The heat may have made our lilac blooms pass too quickly, but since it also intensified their smell, it was not without benefits.
Few shrubs have the same charm that lilacs have. If I could only have one type of shrub, it would be a lilac. I’ve got four different types of them in my yard:
My pure white beauties are the large ones, called “Syringa vulgaris var. ‘alba.‘” They offer so much, in addition to the heady scent in May. They have large showy blooms, and are a good screening shrub for privacy. They hold their shape and do not flop. They are the definition of classic, old-fashioned, carefree beauty. In my yard, these were the first to bloom this year. When I bought mine, I insisted on a pure white lilac. The garden center was displaying lilacs that had white flowers with pink centers. That just wouldn’t do for a color purist like me, who dislikes multicolor flowers. I asked if they had pure white ones, whereon they took me out back and found one for me.
Some traditional tall purple ones, maybe Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln,’ were grandfathered into my yard, and on one corner of my house their blooms had gotten as high as my second-story window, so that I could just open my window to touch and smell them. That was before a storm and some heavy branches crushed the shrub into a much smaller size. These were the second plant to bloom this year.
In search of a more compact lilac for my foundation planting, I bought the newer syringa ‘bloomerang dark purple,’ which now occupies four different places in my yard. It is supposed to be compact and not reach more than five feet tall. One of mine is over six feet now, in just three years, and I am hopeful it will stay that size, since it is a foundation planting. These types of lilacs do not smell as sweet to me as do the large, older varieties, but they do rebloom later in the summer with fewer blooms, if you remove the spent blooms from May. They have a slightly straighter form and have blooms all around the shrub, rather than just at the top, so they are more showy and floriferous than the older, larger, more traditional lilacs. These were the third to go into bloom.
I’ve also got a very small Summer Baby Chinese “Lilac” shrub, Leptodermis oblonga. Technically it is not a lilac, but is similar. It is only about two feet tall after three years, and it blooms in June/July. It has a light scent, and its small shape makes it a good choice for use in garden beds and islands. Its flowers are small and delicate, and it has a light airy effect in the garden. These will be the last “lilacs” to bloom.
May in New England belongs to lilacs. Every May I have the same renewed feeling of amazement that anything could be this good.