Hedonistic Garden Pleasures: Lilac Lust

May 27th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Fresh Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris): the Fragrance of Springtime

Lilacs, Lily of the Valley,Viburnum, Daphne and Woodland Phlox; the fragrance of springtime swirls about me throughout the day as I tend to my work. One of my newer projects is a garden restoration and renovation. Oh how I love this detail. Ancient lilacs tower above me —dripping like gigantic grapes from branches— and in order to bring them down to nose level, I must prune! Oh, delightful rewards of my labor: fresh lilacs fill the kitchen sink. I’ve loaded a vase on the dining room table and gathered an armful to place beside my bed. Bliss…

The Gardener’s Reward

Native to Southern Europe and Persia, the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is hardy in USDA zones 3-7. This old fashioned shrub prefers neutral soil enriched with good organic compost and full sunlight. The blossoms should be removed and the shrub should be pruned in late spring; while flowering or just after the blossoms have faded. Never prune lilacs later than the first week in July or you will forfeit next season’s flowers! For notes on how to prune this old time favorite, click here to visit my previous post on the subject. The Syringa vulgaris pictured above is an unknown cultivar (the house and garden I’m working in is more than 200 years old). I love lavender, blue, deep violet and white lilacs. My favorite white is S. vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’ (pictured just below) and Zeke Goodband just introduced me to an intensely fragrant, lavender colored cultivar called S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ (image at the bottom of this post).

Lilacs often stir childhood memories for gardeners. As children, my sister and I would raid the shrubs across the street from our home, where an enormous stand of fragrant blossoms stood screening a dilapidated outhouse in back of an old, ramshackle hunting cabin. Lilacs will always bring me back to my sister and our days of wild, horticultural plunder. Do you have a special memory associated with this lovely fragrance?

Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ in my Garden at Sunset. This white lilac is one of the most fragrant, double-flowered, French hybrids

If you love lilacs, you will adore Father John Fiala’s classic Lilacs: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia; recently revised and updated by Freek Vrugtman for Timber Press.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ (French hybrid) at Scott Farm. This intensely fragrant lilac will be the next addition to my garden!


Article and photographs are copyright Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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How To Describe the Beautiful Scent of Bodnant Viburnum ‘Dawn’ ?

March 27th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Anticipation! Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – buds swollen in cold spring rain…

I have always found it a bit frustrating that -at least in English- fragrances don’t have names of their own. Have you noticed? When we describe smells, we use similes, (smells like…), or we borrow other words, because scents have none. Often we use flavors -which have their own definitions- like “sweet” and “sour”, or “spicy” and “tart”. Sometimes we employ tactile and visual comparisons, like “soft”, “sharp” and “delicate”, or when we describe a scent, we lean on other adjectives such as “fresh”, “rotten”, “pungent”, or “beautiful”. Why are there so few words to exclusively define scents? I can’t even think of one! Can you? In fact the more unique a scent is, the harder this task becomes…

Spring rain drops shimmer like diamonds on V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’..

These thoughts occurred to me today as I paused to admire the swollen buds on my beloved Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. It seems that her velvety, cerise petals will begin unfolding any moment now, and the anticipation is driving me crazy. I stood outside in the cold air for a long time this morning, wondering how to describe this beautiful fragrance to you. How? Words fail me, and there is no “scent” button on my laptop to transmit the odor. Clove-like with a hint of sweet berries and and musk? Hmm… it’s better than that. Pink? How can something smell pink? Yet it’s true – this blossom actually does smell pink to me. The scent is feminine and familiar, yet hauntingly, almost maddeningly elusive. It smells like a memory; something from childhood; something you know and long for, but can barely remember; something you can almost visualize, but can’t quite pull into focus; something you ache and reach for, but can’t quite touch…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, within hours of opening…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in winter – buds encased in icy globes…

The bodnant viburnum is a gorgeous shrub, not so much because of its form -it can be quite coarse and should be softened with other plantings- but because of its beautiful foliage and flowers. One of the first, and most fragrant flowering shrubs to bloom in my garden, Dawn’s ice-coated buds often glow bright pink in winter – even on the darkest days. On a warm January afternoon, this shrub’s magical buds dangle like glassy-globe ornaments from snow-covered branches at the Secret Garden entry. It’s possible, with even the slightest bit of imagination, to gaze into those crystal-blossom-balls and see the future – a beautiful springtime just around the corner. Impatient by nature, I often cheat a bit and force cut branches of V. bodantense ‘Dawn’ in late winter…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, foliage in autumn, here paired with golden Lindera benzoin, (spice bush)

I’ve certainly waxed poetic enough about this viburnum’s delicious blossoms – but there is more. In autumn, the brilliant foliage of ‘Dawn’ slowly morphs from bright-red maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz; glorious in combination with golden spice bush and technicolor witch alder. Although this plant can be gangly and awkward in adolescence, (aren’t we all?), with proper pruning it will achieve an attractive and shapely mature form. Climate and growing conditions will influence overall size of course, (V. bondnantense is hardy in USDA zones 5-9), but at maturity, something in the neighborhood of 8-10′ high and wide can be expected from this shrub, (my zone 4/5 specimen has grown to 8′ in as many years). Position this treasure where you will pass her frequently in the early days of springtime, and I imagine you too will stop and wonder why we have never created specific words for scents…

Forced branches of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’…

How I wish it could be click-and-sniff…


Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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