Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and I’m commemorating this event in a special way.
Last spring I purchased a new lilac, Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’, after receiving an email about it from my aunt. This spring, if it survives my rather haphazard* care of it, I’ll find a nice spot to plant it out in my garden.
When I see this lilac, I’ll think about how Lincoln grew up in southern Indiana, coming here in 1816 when he was seven, and leaving in 1830 when he was 21. In between, many people, including my own great-great-great-grandfather, David Turnham, crossed his path and helped him in many ways.
Turnham helped Lincoln by loaning him his copy of The Revised Statues of Indiana, which was the first law book Lincoln read. Our family is proud of this connection to Lincoln. We are fortunate to know it happened and be able to commemorate it.
And that’s what I’ll be doing when I plant this lilac. I’ll be commemorating the idea that anyone can have a positive impact on another person. Anyone can do something that shapes the future in ways un-imagined. They can do so with a kind word, an exchange of ideas, or even the loaning of a book.
There will be no great ceremony when I plant this lilac, no speeches or proclamations. It will just be me, out in the garden, planting a shrub, and thinking about who I might loan a book to, perhaps a good book about gardening.
Do you plant trees or shrubs to commemorate historic events like this, or events within your family?
If you want to commemorate this Lincoln bicentennial event, but you don’t have room in your garden for Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’, which is a large shrub, perhaps you have room for a ‘Mister Lincoln’ rose?
In your vegetable garden, you could plant Lincoln leeks or Lincoln peas.
If you have a lot of space, you could plant Lincoln’s Tomb White Oak, an offspring of the actual white oak that grows near Lincoln’s tomb in Illinois.
Or you could just embed a Lincoln penny, heads up, in a stepping stone.
We think of planting lilacs for Lincoln because of Walt Whitman's poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd.
*Haphazard care: In this case, I left the lilac in a pot all summer, a pot that it might have overgrown. In the fall, I put it up by the house and hoped for the best. I checked it over the weekend and it is still alive so I’ll plant it out this spring.