Now in bud and bloom: Lilacs

The fragrance of lilac is often associated with feelings of “home” or other pleasant memories. We seem able to remember the fragrance even decades later. The clusters of fragrant flowers that adorn the lilac bush in mid to late spring mean that summer is just around the corner.  

Lilac is easily grown in well-drained soil. It will bloom its best in full sun conditions. Choose a location that allows for good air circulation to minimize the potential for mildew on the leaves. Prompt removal of faded flower panicles will help increase the bloom count for the following year. This is also the best time to prune to control the size of the plant, if that is necessary. Pruning is best done by the first week in July. After this time, the plant will be setting next year’s flower buds and pruning will sacrifice next year’s flower show. 

Planting a lilac near the house means that the heady fragrance can waft through open windows. Planted as a hedge, they make an effective, not to mention fragrant, screen. As part of a mixed border planting, they mix beautifully with roses and peonies.  

As a cut flower, they are a delight. Fill a vase with cool water. Using a sharp pair of hand pruners, cut when the lilac panicle (the entire cluster of flowers) is one-quarter to one-half open. Use your pruners to split the stem a couple of inches up the center to allow the stem to take up water. It is not necessary to crush the stem. Crushing the stem will not help the lilac take up water.   

 

Syringa meyeri Palabin 

Also known as Dwarf Korean Lilac, ‘Palabin’ is smaller, denser and more rounded in its habit than traditional lilacs. It typically grows 4’-5’ feet tall and 5’-7’ wide, making it suitable for small gardens. It has very fragrant purple flowers. They are arranged in 4” clusters that are perfectly scaled to the shrub. This variety is particularly resistant to powdery mildew.  

Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ 

‘Miss Kim’ is a compact, upright variety which grows 4’-7′ tall with a similar spread. It has deep purple buds that open to reveal clusters of 3” long, highly fragrant, lavender blue flowers. The flowers bloom slightly later than other lilacs, extending that heavenly season of lilac fragrance. Leaves are very resistant to powdery mildew. They are burgundy tinged in the fall, adding to this shrub’s appeal.  

Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’ (Chinese tree lilac) 

Syringa vulgaris ‘Ivory Silk’ is a small tree or large shrub which grows 20’ tall with a rounded crown.  It has beautiful 12” long, creamy white, fragrant flowers with a captivating fragrance. Blooming later than most other species of lilac, its beautiful show takes place in late May and into the summer.  Its beauty is enhanced by rich green foliage and attractive reddish brown bark. ‘Ivory Silk’ is lovely as a specimen tree in the landscape. It can also be used in the mixed border.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Charles Joly’ 

Hybridized by the famous French plantsman, Victor Lemoine, in 1896, ‘Charles Joly’ has deep reddish-purple, double flowers that are extremely fragrant. Heart shaped green leaves on upright branches contribute to this handsome shrub. It matures to a height of 10’-12’. An outstanding variety, it was given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moscovy’ 

Perhaps the name of this shrub merits some explanation. Syringa is Latin for lilac and vulgaris is the Latin word meaning “of the common people, commonplace, shared by all”. So this is where the familiar term ‘common lilac’ comes from.  The variety name, ‘Krasavitsa Moscovy’ translates from the Russian to ‘Beauty of Moscow’ or ‘Pride of Moscow’ and refers to the fact it was hybridized in Russia. It dates to 1943. 

A beautiful and very fragrant variety, it has pale pink buds that open to form double white florets, blushed pink at the edges. The flowers are up to 9” long. It is stunning in full bloom. It matures over time to 8’-12’ tall by 6’-7’ wide. Like all common lilacs, it can be pruned immediately after flowering to contain its size.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Ludwig Spaeth’ 

Lilac ‘French Ludwig Spaeth’

‘Ludwig Spaeth’ offers a display of beautiful, heavily fragrant, dark purple blooms that open from elegant violet flower buds. The flower clusters are up to 12” long. The foliage is bluish-green in color and heart shaped. Useful in the mixed border or in mass plantings, it will grow 8’-10’ in height and 6’-8’ in width.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’ 

‘Madame Lemoine’ is an heirloom French lilac that has dense panicles of marvelously fragrant, double white flowers that open from creamy-white buds. The foliage is heart shaped in form and medium green in color. It grows up to 15’ in height and 12’ in width. This variety was hybridized by the famed French horticulturalist, Victor Lemoine, and named for his wife.  

Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’ 

Lilac ‘Monge’

Another of Victor Lemoine’s introductions, ‘Monge’ has a depth of color that is striking. The flowers are deep reddish purple and richly fragrant. The flower panicles are up to 9” long and produced in abundance. It’s a dramatic and beautiful sight in the garden. A few branches cut for the house will fill the room with an enchanting fragrance. ‘Monge’ typically matures over time to a height of 8’-12’ and a similar width.  

Syringa vulgaris ’Sensation’ 

‘Sensation’ is unusual in that its flowers are bi-colored. The clusters of blooms are composed of individual purple flowers, each edged in white. They are sweetly fragrant. The effect is charming. Rich green foliage is held on upright branches. In time it reaches a height of 10’-12’ and a width of 6’. ‘Sensation’ will be a sensation in your garden.  

 

Reblooming Lilacs 

In recent years plant breeders have developed lilacs with the ability to rebloom. After the first flush of springtime bloom, these lilacs take a rest in the heat of summer before flowering again later in the summer and into the fall. The second bloom cycle is not as heavy as the first, but it is still showy. Pruning immediately after the spring bloom will create a fuller shrub with more branches and encourage more flowers. These lilacs display good mildew resistance. Their compact size allows them to fit into smaller landscapes and they make a nice addition to perennial beds, mixed borders and foundation plantings.  The Bloomerang series have large and fragrant flower clusters displayed on a dense and branching shrub which is perfectly sized for the small garden. 

Syringa x ‘Bloomerang Purple’ 

Clusters of lilac purple, sweetly scented flowers cover the branches in spring and continue off and on until frost. It grows 4’-5’ in height and width, making it suitable for small spaces. It is a nice addition to the mixed border and can be used to create a fragrant, low hedge. 

Syringa x ‘Bloomerang Dark Purple’ 

‘Bloomerang Dark Purple’ is slightly larger than others in the series, reaching 6’ in height and width. Its flower clusters are larger and more rounded in form. It has striking deep purple buds which open to classic deep lavender purple flowers. 

Syringa x  Bloomerang Pink Perfume’ 

This latest addition to the Bloomerang series has the same multi-season flower show, only this time in pink. Its dainty spikes of reddish purple buds open to fragrant, soft pink flowers in May. After the first heavy flush of flowers, it takes a short rest, flowering again intermittently until fall. Compact and rounded in shape, it grows 4’-5’ tall and wide. 

Syringa x hyacinthiflora  

Varieties of Syringa x hyacinthiflora are early blooming lilacs, often flowering up to 2 weeks before Syringa vulgaris varieties. They are known for their exceptional fragrance. They were developed as crosses between the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, and the hardy northern Chinese native, Syringa oblata.  

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Angel White’ 

‘White Angel’ has spectacular clusters of fragrant pure white flowers. It has an open-branched, upright form which makes a great hedge, screen or accent plant. It reaches a height of 12’ and a width of 10’. 

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Declaration’  

Introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum, this outstanding cultivar has large, dramatic clusters of deep reddish-purple blooms that can be 8”-12” in length. It has the wonderful fragrance of the hyacinthiflora hybrids. Maturing at 6’-8’ tall and 5’-6’ wide, it is smaller than traditional lilacs, making it perfect for growing near a patio or in a mixed bed. 

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Mount Baker’ 

Lilac ‘Mount Baker’

‘Mt. Baker’ has intensely fragrant white blossoms in spring. Growing 10’-12’ high and wide, it retains branches close to the ground, giving it a full appearance. The foliage has strong resistance to mildew and remains attractive over a long season.  

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ 

Lilac ‘Pocahontas’

A profuse and early bloomer, ‘Pocahontas’ features deep violet purple buds that open to fragrant, rich violet flowers. It is an upright and multi-stemmed plant that reaches 10’ tall and wide. The spring and summer foliage is a rich deep green that takes on bronzy red tones in the fall.  

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Purple Glory’ 

‘Purple Glory’ has luxuriant deep purple flowers that are wonderfully fragrant. There is a heavy bloom set even on young plants. New leaves will emerge in spring with a purple blue blush, and in fall these purple highlights return. Dense foliage fills branches low to the ground. Growing 12’ tall and 8’ wide, it makes an attractive specimen plant and can also be massed in a hedge or screen. 

Syringa x ‘Tinkerbelle’ 

‘Tinkerbelle’ is a cross between 3 types of lilac, creating a compact, upright shrub that typically grows 4’-6’ tall and wide. It has lovely wine-colored buds that open to large, sweetly fragrant, pale pink flowers.