By Karen England, for Let’s Talk Plants! April 2022.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d - By Walt Whitman
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love. . .
My love affair with lilacs started in May of 1989 in Oslo, Norway. I was newly engaged and my fiancé and I traveled separately to Europe, he to Germany and Italy and I to Scandinavia, on overlapping trips to each visit friends and family overseas. We met up for the last week of his travels and the first week of mine at the home of my childhood friend, now living in Norway.
Underneath the window of the guest bedroom on the second floor of my friend’s home where we were staying grew an enormous lilac that was in full, fragrant bloom.
The fragrance that wafted up ruined me for all other scents.
Did you know that the fragrance of lilac flowers cannot be naturally bottled? If you have something like soap or perfume that is “lilac scented” it is either a chemical copy and not the real deal or it's the essential oil of the leaves and not the flowers.
Once home, and newly married, I tried to grow the new “low-chill” lilac varieties that were popping up in nurseries at the time but, even after years of buying bags of ice at 7-11 in the wintertime on my way home from work and manually chilling my “low-chill’ plants, they never bloomed. A huge disappointment.
Still in love with lilacs even though I couldn’t grow them, my friend, Karon De Leon, who is now the SDHS Volunteer Coordinator, and who grew up in Michigan where lilacs bloom like weeds, and I would go on lilac seeking adventures every spring to buy cut flowers. One such memorable adventure years ago happened while we were driving around Julian. On the way, there was a refrigerated tractor trailer parked at the side of the road selling bunches of cut lilacs and we still talk about it to this day, because we were never sure if the guy, who said his name was “Trevor,” selling the flowers actually owned them. The whole set-up felt like he’d stolen the truck and we were either buying hot property or quite possibly could get carjacked or kidnapped. We survived our encounter with the sketchy Trevor and the lilacs we bought that day were beautiful, but to not accidentally get on the wrong side of the law in the future, we have learned to avoid all shady dudes with stolen rigs selling flowers at the side of the road.
Nowadays we go to Acton, CA for our lilac bunches. Yes, it is a much farther drive than to Julian from our houses, mine in Vista and hers in Fullerton, but as lilac adventures go, it’s our new, safer tradition.
We are going next week again to the Kilcoyne Lilac Farm in Acton, California, and maybe after reading this we will see you there! The pictures here are from last year.