It’s a cliché of the garden world that when you visit a garden and marvel at its beauty, the gardener says ‘Oh yes, but it’s a pity you weren’t here last week, you just missed the xyz, which was exquisite!’ Or else the lament is, ‘Oh, shame you won’t be here next week, the xyz is just about to come into its best!’ Sandra Ross says that when she arrived in Germany with a group of Ross Garden travellers to a chilly spring it looked like the much-anticipated lilacs would be a dazzling case of xyz next week.
In cool Hamburg and Berlin, she writes, “we saw cercis, tulips, daffodils, and magnolias but no lilac. We had better lilac luck in Prague where they were just coming into flower along roadsides, in parks and gardens. When we climbed the steep terraces of the gardens of Prague Castle we saw these lovely flowering cherries….
…and lilacs in full glorious colour, luxuriating in the south-facing microclimate.
When we moved on to Vienna we finally caught the lilacs in full flower everywhere. Fragrant hedges of lilac surround the perimeter of the elegant Volksgarten, the people’s park near the Imperial Hofburg Palace, as you can see here.
We smelled them before we saw them; drawn by their lovely fragrance as we came out from the Sisi Apartments in the palace. We followed the scent across the courtyard and into the Volksgarten Park, where we saw lilacs in abundance; as hedges, specimens and standards.
What is it about lilac that is so charismatic? All things being equal I would move to a cold climate just to be able to grow lilac! It is one of my favourite plants. I would plant hedges of it to surround my house and drink in that gorgeous fragrance. If you are lucky enough to live where winters are cold, you will be able to grow, and flower, lilac. What do you need to know?
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is a deciduous shrub that grows to 2.5m with strong upright growth. Mature old plants become almost tree-like. In Europe it’s common to see them growing as standards in a more formal planting design, (we saw them grown like this in the Bundesgarten in Vienna – no good pix sadly). The standards are grafted onto an understock of the common privet. In the late 1800s the Lemoine Nursery in France introduced many new cultivars to the world and the term ‘French Hybrids’ is often still used in nurseries to refer to all common lilac cultivars. As well as purple, and yes, lilac, there is also a variegated variety called ‘Sensation’ that is purple with a white edge and a dreamy pure white variety called ‘Madame Lemoine’.
Any other lilac tragics out there with a story to share?
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