May 19th, 2009

Lilac time

I live in an area of the country lilacs love.

This time of year when I take my walks, it seems that every few yards I pass tall lilac bushes loaded with blossoms. Their fragrance hits me before I even see them; the aroma more beautiful than any man-made perfume possibly could be, and rich with a thousand memories.

Lest you think that lilacs are only one color or one shape, there’s actually a great deal of variety: white, light purple, darker purple, darkest purple, and even pink; feathery or plain; tall or short; early-blooming or late; powerfully-scented or delicate (here’s everything you might want to know about lilacs).

I used to own some lilac bushes, but right now I don’t. So I have to depend on the kindness of others. Yesterday I was walking past a friend’s house while she was in her yard, and she waved her hand at the many lilac bushes there and said I should cut some blooms. And so I did.

Lilacs don’t last long in vases—but then, they don’t last very long on bushes either. But they make wonderful, if ephemeral, additions to the table or counter or shelf. Here are mine—enjoy them, they may not last another day:


In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

25 Responses to “Lilac time”

  1. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    “When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d” is a lovely line to say out loud.

    Lilacs can also be pure blue. My mother recently pointed out to me a gorgeous bush blooming in her neighbor’s yard in an almost fluorescent shade of azure. She’s plotting to beg permission from the neighbor to dig up a shoot. That’s another great thing about lilacs — they are so eager to make more lilacs that it’s usually pretty easy to get a new one started.

  2. Adrian Says:

    Ever heard the song “Jeannine (I Dream of Lilac Time)”? There’s wonderful cover of it on a Jimmy Rowles CD bearing the same title as this blog posting.

  3. Tom Says:

    I lived in lilac country as a teen, with a big, fragrant bush (a small tree actually; why are they always “bushes”?) below my 2nd floor bedroom window, which I left wide open for the wonderful scent. Still miss it. Thanks for triggering the memory. Part of my feminine side, I guess!

  4. tarragon rose Says:

    Even in California’s San Joaquin Valley, with not-very-cold winters and long, hot summers, we have lilacs. They bloomed a couple of months ago, and what a beautiful sight: over the winter I’d had a trellis built for the grape vine over my deck, and the lilac in bloom was framed by the trellis and the grape vines just beginning to swell new leaves. Gosh it was pretty!

  5. Don Janousek Says:

    Love lilacs! The city I live in here in Nebraska is known for its large number of lilac bushes. For the past couple of weeks, especially after a late afternoon shower, the air at dusk has been heavily scented with lilacs. Has made my evening walks a real joy. Such beauty. When I lived for awhile in southern Illinois, it was the honeysuckle that made the night air so lovely at this time of the year. Lilacs are starting to fade, but “Miss Iris” made her debut this week and the peonies are gettin’ ready for their turn. As I get older, I’ve been trying to live more by the seasons than the clock, and the season of Spring means night air permeated with the scents of Heaven. How nice of God to do that for us.

  6. S. Graham Says:

    I miss them so much now that I live in Georgia. I found them again on a trip to La Verna,Italy, cascading over a lovely stone wall.Like meeting an old friend.Thank you for the memories,Neo.

  7. Gringo Says:

    My childhood home had lilacs surrounding the old outhouse/shed. Lovely year round, flowers or not.

  8. ligneus Says:

    When I was young a long, long time ago growing up in the country in England it was considered bad luck to bring lilac blossoms into the house. Since I had no idea why this might be so and even doubted my memory I googled it and came up with this:

    The lilac is steeped in folklore, most often linked to its very strong scent. Lilacs are so potent that freshly cut flowers were used to cover the smell of decay when a body lay in state during Victorian times. For this reason, some say it is bad luck to cut lilacs for use in the home. But that is foolish, for no other flower can drive out the lingering stuffiness of winter like a fresh bouquet of spring lilacs.

  9. FredHjr Says:

    My wife loves lilacs and I like them too. We have half a dozen lilac bushes in bloom, which we planted here when we bought the house back in ’99. In fact, minutes ago, after supper, we were outside and she was cutting some lilacs to put in a vase in the house.

  10. FredHjr Says:

    In fact, we live in the Lilac City – Rochester, New Hampshire. They’re everywhere.

  11. Mr Time Machine Says:

    Rochester, NY has a long running Lilac festival going back to 1898, and boast a half million visitors over ten days

  12. Elizabeth L. Crain Says:

    This is an old favorite lilac poem of mine from childhood, by the minor American poet Lizette Woodworth Reese (1856-1935):

    Lydia is gone this many a year,
    Yet when the lilacs stir,
    In the old gardens far or near,
    The house is full of her.

    They climb the twisted chamber stair;
    Her picture haunts the room;
    On the carved shelf beneath it there,
    They heap the purple bloom.

    A ghost so long has Lydia been,
    Her cloak upon the wall,
    Broidered, and gilt, and faded green,
    Seems not her cloak at all.

    The book, the box on mantel laid,
    The shells in a pale row,
    Are those of some dim little maid,
    A thousand years ago.

    And yet the house is full of her;
    She goes and comes again;
    And longings thrill, and memories stir,
    Like lilacs in the rain.

    Out in their yards the neighbors walk,
    Among the blossoms tall;
    Of Anne, of Phyllis, do they talk,
    Of Lydia not at all.

  13. expat Says:


    Mine too, but by the time I was born, the outhouse was gone. I can remember sitting under the lilac trees in May and singing, which I don’t do well. I wonder what my mother thought as she observed her weird kid through the window. At least the neighbors were too far away to hear. But I guess anyone would understand that lilacs and springtime make you want to sing.

  14. JThoits Says:

    Adrian: My mother named me “Jeannine” because of that song….my grandfather loved it! And I still love lilacs, too. We have lots of them in Michigan if you are lucky enough to have a bush/tree nearby!

  15. ELC Says:

    I live in a small Pennsylvania town where there are lots of lilacs (and dogwoods and rhododenrons and azaleas). I wrote a poem about this time of year; I don’t know if it really works, but… well… there it is.

    The Greening Spring

    I think this one is better:

    The Eve of June

  16. Jamie Says:

    We “inherited” two lilac trees with our first house in Seattle; I fell in love; my husband went “eh.” Still to this day, to my dismay, he has NO desire to plant a lilac here at our house in Pennsylvania. His mom loves lilacs like no other flower, and we promised to plant one for her here for Mother’s Day – but he’s looking for a place to “hide” it on our property so he doesn’t have to look at it! What a maroon. Good thing he’s cute.

  17. DCE Says:

    The lilacs are in bloom all around The Manse, turning our hillside purple and white. I always look forward to the lilacs blooming every May, filling the air with that heady scent.

  18. douglas Says:

    I’ve thought that the true beauty of cut flowers is that we know we must admire them immediately, as they’ll have a short life- even shorter than in nature. Nothing says ‘stop and smell the flowers’ like a vase in the kitchen full of blooms.

    Too bad we can’t grow lilacs here in SoCal. My Mother-in-law loves them.

  19. Jamie Says:

    douglas, my mom-in-law is in SoCal too, which is why we had to promise to plant her a lilac here in PA. She’s from Rhode Island and so grew up with them, misses them terribly. That and the leaves. The town in which she lives now has ONE street where the leaves change colors; she goes and visits that street just to see something colorfully deciduous. When she visits us here in the fall (that is, every year come hell or high water), she takes literally HUNDREDS of pictures of trees – having a particular fondness for my husband’s office parking lot!

  20. Dan Says:

    Here in Minnesota the lilacs are favoring us with their delightful scent and appearance. It’s reassuring to this global warming denier that the timing of the blossoms has not changed in the 40 years that I have lived here.

  21. S. Graham Says:

    ELC, I loved your beautiful poems.Started my day just right.Thank you.

  22. zombywolf Says:

    Missoula in old part of the city around city hall and old band sheel–a gazebo really and those residential streets till you get to the railroad and back to Rattlesnake creek almost every front yard is awash with Lilacs for about two weeks. It was almost too much of a good thing–kind of over-dosing on the heady perfume. Spokane 90 miles away has a Lilac Festival (

    There’s a neighborhood a few streets away (Nashville, TN) and every house has huge lilac bushes–I grow them and they never bloom–Tried to 3 bushes to live in Mobile–too far south I guess–people across the street from me have two bushes and they are almost a burgundy.
    –used to date a professor–after our bad break-up–I left Lilacs on his office door when I had a grad class in that building–Whitman was one of his favorite poets–it seemed a sort of catharsis.

  23. SteveH Says:

    No Lilacs in Alabama i don’t think. Sort of looks like Wysteria though, which we have a plenty.

  24. vanderleun Says:

    On those nights when the Seattle weather obliges I throw open the windows in my kitchen, especially those over the sink and let the scent of the lilacs that grow down the side of my house wash over me.

    It’s the best argument for doing the dishes in the world.

  25. ELC Says:

    @ S. Graham 9:24 am. Thanks for your kind words… ending my day just right. 🙂

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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