Eagerly Anticipating the Lilacs

After the long winter, I am eagerly awaiting the lilac blooms this spring.

Last spring the lilacs had an off year, due to some unexpected winter weather in April. The cold weather froze out many of the flower buds, and though we did get a few blooms, it was short of spectacular and not worth writing home about.

But this year, I am expecting spectacular.

Starting with the common lilacs and ending with my Japanese tree lilac, I should have nearly six weeks of lilac blooms.

First to bloom in late April will be the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris. This is an old-fashioned shrub which gets rather large and is what most people think of when they think of lilacs.

The common lilac is best planted in a mixed shrub border so that later on when all the leaves have powdery mildew on them, and they will, it won’t be such an eyesore.

The buds pictured above are on a common lilac in my neighbor’s side yard, just across the property line from my yard, so I get to enjoy it too. I also have a white-flowering common lilac, part of a shrub border, or it will be once I plant some more shrubs around it.

Sometime around mid-May, my Miss Kim lilacs, Syringa patula 'Miss Kim', will be in full bloom. They are more compact than the common lilac and top out at between five and six feet. I have three along the side of my house as a foundation planting where there are no windows to block.

'Miss Kim' lilacs are extremely fragrant when blooming and because they bloom around Mother’s Day, I usually take a bouquet of them to my Mom.

Also around mid-May, the Meyer lilac, Syringa meyeri, starts to bloom and is also quite fragrant. It is also a good lilac for a foundation planting, especially near a window, because it stays around three feet tall without pruning. When it is blooming, open the nearby window and let the smell come in to your house!

Finally, in late May or early June, my Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk', will bloom. It is a small tree with white flowers and is a surprise to most people when they see it blooming. They always ask “what’s that?” because it isn’t a very common tree. But I don’t see why it shouldn’t be!

With my white flowering common lilac, four ‘Miss Kim’ lilacs, three Meyer lilacs plus a Japanese tree lilac and my neighbor’s ‘borrowed’ lilac, I have a full complement of lilacs and thought I was pretty much done planting lilacs.

Then my aunt sent me a note asking me about a ‘Lincoln Lilac’, which I believe is the blue flowering lilac, Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’. She had read at one time that to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln in 2009, the Master Gardeners were going to plant one of these lilacs at every elementary school in the state.

While I could not find information on that project, I did become intrigued with this particular variety of lilac and decided that I should have one to plant in my own garden to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Lincoln.

After all, my ancestors lived near Abraham Lincoln where he grew up in southern Indiana and were friends of the Lincoln family. In fact, David Turnham, my great-great-great-grandfather, loaned Lincoln the Revised Laws of Indiana to read in 1827.

Perhaps reading about these laws awakened Lincoln’s interest in studying law and going into politics?

I tell people this story to point out that you never know how you might influence someone when you loan them a book, have a meaningful conversation with them, or plant the seeds of an idea in their mind.

You, yes you, might influence someone in some small, positive way, someone who is destined to go on to do great things.

So freely share your books, ideas, and insights with others, and then, if you garden where lilacs grow, go plant a lilac this spring. You won’t regret either action.


  1. carol - i just bought my first lilac today! i got the dwarf korean lilac per carolyn's suggestion for my front garden. I was really torn over whether to get the dwarf korean or the miss kim. i hope i made the right choice but I can't wait to see your miss kim in bloom so I hope you'll post pictures for us.

  2. I miss my lilacs. They just won't grow in Houston.

    I had some lilac and white ones outside my office window in New England. I'd open the window and the scent would waif through the whole house.

  3. Lovely post, Carol. I have just one lilac bush, which I assume is the common lilac. I love lilacs and was so disappointed when the freeze hit last year--we had no blooms at all. Thanks for all the info on the different varieties--I'd love to have some that bloom at different times.

  4. Carol, I hope you are right about the 'spectacular' for the lilacs. I'll check into the Lincoln one. Il. is probably doing something for next year also. Interesting about your family living near the Lincolns in s. In. I was born there and remember the Lincoln village at Rockport and have been to The Lincoln State park. Great post.

  5. For the first time in the seven years I have lived here in Tennessee, I can honestly say our lilacs were spectacular and still are! You are in for a treat. Maybe the drought and late freeze actually helped these plants.

  6. I'm anxiously anticipating my very first ever lilac blooms. I purchased the 'Miss Kim', but I think that one died. The three common lilacs seem to be doing well.

  7. I planted ten or so common lilacs last spring (president's gray and sensation) and hope to see flowers.

    I found what you mentioned about powdery mildew interesting. Perhaps it depends on climate and location? There are lilacs *everywhere* here, mostly the common ones (it's the city's official flower) and I don't remember ever seeing powdery mildew.

    Now that I've said that, just watch my hedge of common lilacs become a powdery mildew infested wreck :)

  8. Hi Carol, you have a great lilac collection. I dearly love the white ones. I didn't realize about the different varieties blooming at different times. It must be heavenly to sit outside with a gentle breeze blowing the perfume through the air. MMMMM.

    Frances at Faire Garden

  9. Mornin' Carol, you have a lot of lilacs, and I'm jealous. Just kidding. I don't have a white lilac, but I'm thinking of adding one this year. I have a common one, a French one (the best scent; of course, it's French,) and two Miss Kim's.

    A funny. I cut some of my early lilac blossoms and put them in my office. HH came home and said "Something died in the office." We went back there and figured out he was smelling the lilacs. LOL.~~Dee

  10. I can smell their heady perfume already!

  11. My Miss Kim is in full bloom right now -- heaven! I need to find a place for more lilacs -- I am intrigued by the Japanese Tree Lilac ... there's got to be a spot somewhere around here ...

  12. They are difficult to grow here because our winters don't get cold enough. That plus the fact that our soil tends to be on the acid side. It is such a gorgeous plant.

  13. What a lovely lilac post! I never realized there were so many varieties. When we moved into our house 4 years ago I knew there was a long border of lilac trees. My anticipation for a big row of fragrant lavender blossoms grew all winter long. Imagine my surprise when they turned out to be white!! (and seriously, every year I forget and am disappointed). Two years ago I planted a variety with "Canada" in the name. So far it is still about a foot and a half high and the buds on it are absolutely miniscule. Thoughts on how to get it to grow???

  14. Thank you for sharing your excitement, Carol - a good lilac year is worth celebrating and I miss them!

    One common type and a Canadian pink variety already bloomed at our last IL house when we moved in. The Canadian lilacs bloomed about a week after all the others were done.

    We added a Japanese Tree lilac, a Meyer lilac, a 'Ludwig Spaethe', a Persian lilac and an unnamed passalong from a friend. Always wanted a 'President Lincoln' after smelling them at a park - you will love having that one!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  15. I have been trying to figure out what to do with the solitary lilac I have planted. It may be too lae for a mixed shrub bed though--no room. Hmmmm. What else to hid the powdery mildew?

    Robin at Bumblebee

  16. Last spring was pretty bad for because of the weather. I had a lot of plants not bloom. I don't have any liliacs and I am wanting one, but I can't decide which type yet.

  17. I didn't have a good lilac year last year either and I live in Zone 7. I've got lots of buds this year but it's also been snowing off and on this week. What's up with that in April?! The one thing I don't like about lilacs is the suckers that spread everywhere. Do you have a good way to stop them?

  18. Carol,
    Lilac is my son's favorite flower so he got one for me several mom's days ago...it bloomed last week and once we have these really hot days....his bloom is gone. You are so right about the powdery mildew! I am going to try the shorter lilacs...not so big is a good thing.

    Good luck locating the Lincoln Lilac...please post more info.


  19. Thank you for reminding me to look for the lilac. I love them and I'm desperately waiting for spring! And for the encouraging thought about the many ways we can influence someone for good, even if we never know about it.

  20. I sure hope that the weather holds and we have that spectacular show you are awaiting. I can't hardly wait since the buds are about to pop here.

    We too have a lilac tree. I don't know what variety. It is a beautiful tree all year long since the trunk has beautiful flaky bark and the leaves are small yet are so lively in the wind. Of course the blooms are so fragrant we often have people ask what the smell is when they are sitting with us on the patio. Yep, can't wait.

  21. Carol,
    Hope you find a source for the Lincoln Lilac tree. These will be planted in the spring of 2009. Check out at www.in.gov/lincoln/commission/legacy.html
    Also, David Turnham was your third great grandfather rather than fifth.

  22. I ran across the Japanese tree lilac at my grocery store almost three years ago and have been thinking where I want to put one ever since. I think the hyacinthiflora lilacs are even earlier than the vulgaris, but I haven't grown any (yet) myself.

  23. I have lilac envy! Lilacs are one of the plants I really miss from Wisconsin. I've been trying to find something scented for Austin that could be my surrogate lilac, but the closest thing I've found is sweet almond verbena. I also like the scent of chinaberry flowers, but the tree is an invasive weed, alas.

  24. My lilacs are almost ready to bloom. I was a bit worried because half the tree was laying on the ground during the ice storm a few months ago. It seems to have recovered now.

    My lilac is right outside my bedroom window. I love looking out in the morning and seeing their beautiful blooms for the few wonderful days they're here.


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