Flower of the Month: Lilacs

‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’...

’It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...’”
— Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
 The skies are grey and the clouds are hiding the mountains.  Despite the bleak weather, spring is making its presence known.

The skies are grey and the clouds are hiding the mountains.  Despite the bleak weather, spring is making its presence known.

Written by: Jessica Chase

After such a blusterous winter, the true signs of spring have finally manifested.  The daffodils have stretched out of the ground with their vibrant yellows and pinks.  The birds are twittering, while hopping from branch to branch, on the awakening trees. Sometimes, the months of March and April are quite a tizzy: spring sunshine one day, winter wind and cold the next. I must admit, after a couple days of the sun kissing my skin, I was saddened by the rain splashing its way back. Sullenly, I peered out my kitchen window and tiny purple clusters caught my eye.  Despite the murky skies, the lilac bush was indeed reminding me that cold drizzles of winter are coming to an end. Winter and spring clashing together is wondrous, it creates a mood and mixture of plants only seen during the sparring of the seasons: spring waltzing in while winter frivolity attempts to keep hold.

 

Lilacs are splendid.  They thrive from neglect, through the deep coolness of winters, then gift us the most intoxicating flowers in the beginning of spring.  They are one of the first flowers to feed the bees with some long-needed nourishment.  Lilacs provide fresh cut flowers while much of the garden is still sleeping.  Not to mention, their dainty blooms could easily be dresses for fairies, lilacs are truly enchanting.  It is so fitting that the Victorian language of flowers’ definition for lilacs is “first love.”  After a long slumberous winter, I truly feel lilacs are my first love every spring, year after year. 

 Some freshly harvested lilacs.  Photo and lilacs compliments of Audrey Coley, farmer-florist of Honest To Goodness Farms

Some freshly harvested lilacs.  Photo and lilacs compliments of Audrey Coley, farmer-florist of Honest To Goodness Farms

Most lilac varieties’ blooming window is fleeting, only a mere three weeks! Though they bloom for less than a month, their floral scent (with slight undertones of honey) seems everlasting.  To me, they are truly the scent of spring. In some cultures, lilacs are the representation of Easter.  I find this a marvelous synchronism: that lilacs bloom in the perfect window to be paired with the holiday that is the epitome of spring.  To watch such frail flowers come from such a robust plant brings such a balance, a perfect representation for the season they bloom during.  The wind, the cold, the frost, the sunshine- nothing seems to phase lilacs. They don’t need to be fussed over, other than cutting their flowers once a year.  Flowers in vase, done.  Pruning lilac bush, done.  I feel this is a win-win.  Why can’t all plants be this effortless?

Lilacs are actually in the olive family and have dense wood that has even been used to make instruments.  Not only are they pretty: their wood is useful, their scent phenomenal, their flowers are actually edible as well.  Their frilly florets make wonderful garnishes for sweets, teas, and even jelly!    A simple way to enjoy lilacs long after their blooms fade away, is to make lilac infused sugar.

 Lilacs are one of the first flowers to provide sustenance to our declining bee populations.  Photo courtesy of Audrey Coley, farmer-florist of Honest To Goodness Farms

Lilacs are one of the first flowers to provide sustenance to our declining bee populations.  Photo courtesy of Audrey Coley, farmer-florist of Honest To Goodness Farms

Hopefully, you’re ready for your spring first love with lilacs as well!  Here are some tips if you want to harvest your own lilacs for your kitchen table or to gift to a loved one:

Lilacs, unlike most flowers, will not open more florets once picked.  Therefore, harvest when about two-thirds of the florets are opened. 

Lilacs also are considered a “woody” flower, meaning their stem is more of a branch.  This requires more than just cutting the stem for the lilac to be able to uptake the water.  With sharp pruners (don’t cut yourself!) cut up the stem a couple inches, for even more water uptake, take one of the cut branch sides and twist it out.  If you would rather, taking a hammer instead of pruners, and smashing the stem up a couple inches works as well. 

Lilacs are not terribly long lasting as a cut flower but you can get a sound five days when harvested at the right stage and with execution of proper post handling techniques.  Using flower food, commercial or homemade, helps as well.  For cut flower care instructions and my preferred homemade flower food recipe click here.

 

Hope you enjoyed this dose of floral bliss!

- Jessica