Planting a Lilac for Lincoln's Birthday Bicentennial

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.


I have upon occasion planted a tree or shrub to commerate an occasion. Like when my dear old dog died we planted a couple of dogwood trees in the garden. When I find a plant with the same name as a friend or family memeber I look for a spot in the garden for it. I love the Mr Lincoln rose. I don't grow it now but have in the past. It smells wonderful and is quite handsome. I hope your Mr Lincoln lilac makes it.
Lori said…
That's such a great way to memorialize a family event!

So far I haven't planted anything to commemorate anything, unless you count planting my garden to celebrate buying my I could plant a garden! ;D
Unknown said…
What a great idea.
For my two oldest daughters, we planted a lilac the year they were born. We missed doing it for Elizabeth last year because so much was going on. I guess we'll have to buy and plant two this year!

I love that Whitman poem, and I especially love the story of your family's interaction with Lincoln--thanks for sharing it!
Les said…
Your post is timely, I just finished watching the History Channel's series on Lincoln. I often get asked by customers to help them with memorial plants and more often than not they want to plant a Dogwood, our state tree. This can be a very fussy tree here, and I advise that for a memorial tree you want one that is going to be vigorous and live. I also suggest they pick a plant that will bloom at about the time of year the person they are honoring was born. I also try to find out if there was a particular plant the person enjoyed or had a fond association with. This year I helped a customer pick out a memorial plant for their temple and we looked to the Old Testament and choose a fig tree.
Unknown said…
Happy Lincoln's birthday! It's also Darwin's birthday, and that of course means more to me, not being an American, but Lincoln was a definite hero to many of us outside your country too. I hope the lilac does well--they thrive here, and I'm sending good growing wishes to it across the miles.
Diana said…
What a nice way to commemorate Lincoln's birthday and your family's roots and connection. That really is a special memory to have. Like Lisa, I planted a Live Oak, given to me by my son, when our dog, Sami, died in 1999. It broke my heart to move away from that house, but it comforts me to know that the tree will always be there - a lasting tribute. Enjoy your Lilac -- she's beautiful.
Kerri said…
I like that idea, Carol, and hope your lilac thrives to commemorate such an exciting connection to a great man.
I have the Mr. Lincoln rose in my garden and always savour it's beautiful perfume and rich red color.
In 2003 we planted a conifer in memory of my dear MIL.
Anonymous said…
What a great way to commemorate our 16th president! I love the scent of Lilacs and have admired my neighbor's large shrub every spring for years.
Anonymous said…
I hope your lilac does well, Carol -- it is certainly a lovely colour.
Daphne Gould said…
I never knew I was commemorating Lincoln's birthday when I planted my Lincoln leeks a few weeks ago. I've never grown that variety before. It was just chance.
Rose said…
I immediately thought of the Whitman poem when I saw this title, Carol. This is a wonderful way to commemorate Lincoln's birthday. We Illinoisans claim Lincoln as our own, and there are many activities planned state-wide not only for today, but throughout the year to celebrate his 200th birthday. But I know his roots were in Indiana; how proud you must be of your family link to this great man.
Kathy said…
That is cool that your family has a connection to Lincoln. We have never commemorated a family event with a plant. Maybe we should start.
joey said…
A lovely post and stunning shrub, Carol. Hope it thrives in Lincoln's memory.
Unknown said…
Well there certainly is a lot of plants to commemorate this president! Lilacs and roses, cant go wrong there.
Your family connection to Lincoln is so cool! (My family wasn't even here in 1830.) I hope your Lilac shrugs off being left in a pot. If I have to hold off on planting a shrub, I move it into a larger container, which makes it a pleasure to plant when the time comes.
What a wonderful story and especially the truth of not knowing the eventual outcome of even our small deeds. When my dad died, rather than send flowers, my office mates gave me a gift certificate to buy a memorial tree. So I have a lovely Ginkgo planted where I see it every day. We also planted a Carolina silverbell which blooms in the spring around the time our 19-year-old niece died. We named the whole area of the garden where it's planted after her: Katie's Crescent.
Anonymous said…
Well, since I can't grow a Lincoln lilac, I think I'll celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday by hoping that some of my larkspur or bluebonnets will sport, providing me with an unique selection.

Or. I could follow my mother's example and grow a 'Mr. Lincoln' rose. Maybe she was drawn to it because my dad was born in the Land of Lincoln.
Becky said…
You might find it interesting that Walt Whitman's beautiful poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" was written on the occasion of Lincoln's death, in April of 1865. So, your lilac choice was even more apt!

When my mother died, many of my online friends chipped in and sent me a beautiful living memorial--a white "redbud" tree--to plant in my yard. I've since added some of her ashes to the ground underneath the tree, so it truly is a sentimental, special tree, now. Every spring when it blooms, she seems less far away...
Carol Michel said…
Thanks all for the wonderful comments, I'm enjoying reading about all the trees and shrubs planted to commemorate an event or a person.

I should clarify that the lilac pictured on the post is NOT a 'President Lincoln', it's just a picture of lilac blooms I had on file. I hope that wasn't too confusing.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Stacy said…
I actually bought a lilac (Lil Miss Kim) in memory of my uncle who passed away last March; It's in a pot on my deck and I think of him everytime I see it. :-)
Anonymous said…
Cool idea for celebration of the great president's birthday. I can't wait to see it bloom this year.~~Dee
Shirley said…
Great stuff, Carol :-) I can completely relate to this simple planting moment in your garden. No fuss, just you in your garden doing what you do.

I have many plants in my garden planted this way. All personal moments but I have one recurring theme with the anniversary of the loss of my son. Some years it has been a shrub in flower at that time, others some bulbs or a perennial that will flower later in the year. I don't get too sentimental over the plants as it is as much about the moment of planting. This year will be the 20th Anniversary.

I hope you enjoyed your day celebrating Lincoln's 200th Birthday. I dedicated a small video of Jellyfish to Darwin :-;
Anonymous said…
Nice entry Carol. We would like to get one of the lilacs but just have not done the leg work to obtain one. Celebrated the day attending a special program at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, IN.
Rock rose said…
I haven't planted anything to commemorate anyone famous but I did plant three roses in my English garden. They are to remember my mother and best friend who died in the same year. They are the color of the Lancashire rose- red. I had to plant 3 because they were in the circle. Who knows who the other one will remember. I hope it isn't one of us. We can't grow lilac here and the penny would be a great idea but I think we are just about finished with the patio stones. Yours was a nice idea. What about Charles Darwin? Those two plant guides that D bought were written by Erasmus Darwin who was the grandfather of Charles.
Anonymous said…
This is a lovely sentiment. Sometimes the stories behind our favorite plants and planting choices are as interesting (or dare I say more interesting) than the plants themselves.