They say rosemary is for remembering, but for me, it’s always lilacs. I think back to try and figure out the first lilac bush I knew. I can’t recall either of my grandmothers having one in their yard. Great grandma Berns probably had a couple in her yard, but if so, I don’t remember them from there.
My first lilac of memory was the little bush Mom planted outside the back door of our first house in Wood Ridge. That was probably the first time I paid attention to the growth of a plant with the passage of time. I remember it was sort of scrawny when we planted it, but had finally reached a decent size by the time we moved away. That may have been the first time I was sorry to leave a plant behind (foreshadowing about the eventual back troubles, eh?).
But I have plenty of lilac memories from Long Lake. There were several large old lilac bushes on the property that with time we re-shaped and rejuvenated, trimming out the oldest branches to encourage the new. Over the years, we rescued a few others and added a new one or two.
In the heart of the chilly Adirondacks where gardening lasts all of six to eight weeks in a good year, the season comes in not with a crocus here and a daffodil there, and then some tulips and a little while later assorted hyacinths. Oh, no. There, Spring seemed to come all at once and more often than not in a pretty rapid crescendo of a couple of weeks culminating in a warm fragrant festival of lilacs around Memorial Day. If my memory is not mistaken, outside the Members Cottage at the museum we had both purple and white lilacs, the latter even more fragrant. That wonderful perfume almost made up for the near-simultaneous arrival of the black flies.
I’ve known a variety of lilac bushes here on the Cape, cultivating some, only harvesting from others. I remember a great lilac round-up one year for a late May wedding with a lilac theme the year they all bloomed so early. I even know a secret place they bloom.
I think it’s cool to see a great wild-ish planting of lilacs alongside the roadside, with blooms so high you’d need a ladder to clip some. They are the only remnant of a long-ago dooryard, where someone once planted a scrawny bush in hopes of a few fragrant plumes.
In other purple news, the dwarf iris Carolina made her first appearance in the garden for this season. It looks like there’ll be plenty more to follow as the week progresses, too.
Don’t let the name fool you as to her geographic origins, though. In one of those rare cross-border plant exchanges that never happen (wink, wink) between gardeners, Carolina came from Alabama with some cardinal climber on her knee.