Greetings, sweet flower fans. April sunshine brings. . . LILAC! Well, it starts to show up in April, but let’s not split hairs :) “L” is for lilac, people, and this extraordinary, abundant, fragrant bloom comes just in time as we emerge (finally? truly?) from this long winter. ( sense my sarcasm..)
Syringa or “lilac” is actually a genus comprised of around 25 different species of woodland blossoming plants in the olive family. The flowers show up in a range of purples and whites, but they are most commonly associated with the pale, mauve color we have come to know as “lilac.”
Lilac is powerfully fragrant and is native to a wide swath covering Southeastern Europe through Eastern Asia. The woody lilac stem is extremely durable and is sometimes used in carvings or to create musical instruments. A more delicate use of lilac is for tea derived from the leaves, flowers and even some of the more spindly branches.
Lilac is decidedly a spring flower with a short blooming season — it is on full display from April through May and then falls dormant again until the following year. For me, this makes lilac an even greater treasure, and something I cherish for a fleeting few weeks. The blooming of lilac is also a lovely way to mark time and create traditions — I try and plan a special trip to a lilac farm or public garden at least once during each blooming season. I tend to associate lilac with classic, English gardens . . . more on this in a minute.
Please join me after the jump where I will show you an English-garden inspired floral vignette!
The most important thing to know when working with lilac is that after you cut the stems (with strong clippers or a branch lopper), you must hammer the ends of the stems to split them (as shown above). This is critically important, as you are creating a pathway for the water to travel up to the blossoms. Lilac needs to drink a lot. When you hammer the stems, the outer wooden shell should split away to reveal a creamy, softer wood layer. There is a fine line between hammering to split the stems open and pulverizing the stems to bits, so after a few good whacks with a hammer, check the stems — if they are intact but split, you are good to go!
The next step when working with lilac is to take the split stems and dunk them in a generous bucket (or vase) of hot water. That’s right — hot water. The hot water will soften the tough stems so the flowers can drink. Leave the lilac in the hot water for at least an hour to let it really soak well. After that point, you can feel free to cut the stems to place in an arrangement of cool water with other flowers, just make an effort to hammer the stems again.
My inspiration for this post was imagining pruning lilac out of an English garden and arranging it simply in milk glasses with other garden blooms. Above, three charming milk-glass containers with three to five stems of lilac in each. You could, of course, stop there and have a lovely arrangement. But . . .
It seems to me that we should add some funky celosia (sometimes called “brain flower”) to the mix. I love the royal magenta paired with the purple, and the unexpected shape of the celosia with a branchy element.
Fuzzy lamb’s ears strike me as very English and garden-y, and I think the silvery hue is a beautiful complement to the lilac.
We have created a fabulous perch for some lavender and sweet peas with our bushy lilac and other sturdy elements.
Some people prefer to work with only one fragrant bloom at a time, but I think the more the merrier :) The lavender and sweet peas provide softer notes, like mixing a perfume.
And finally, anemones, at the tail end of their season, function as an outstanding “face” flower and a whimsical touch for this garden grouping.
If you haven’t already, find out if there is a public garden near you that has lilac. Go there and inhale the unique and evocative fragrance, experience the fluffy blooms, take in the soft shades, and then join me back here when “m” will be for . . . .