Colour of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers are everywhere
In this my New England.”
Poet Amy Lowell
I have only three weeks left to savor the lush purple flowers scenting the bush that stands proudly by my back deck. Then they’re gone, and I have to wait another 12 months.
My love for lilacs has taken me, in the moonlight, stealthily clutching clippers, into New Jersey churchyards and behind Bradbury’s Market in Cape Porpoise. Purloined lilacs, I’ve discovered, are special. But my lilac knowledge was scant so I did some research.
On sunny May afternoons at Mount Vernon, Martha Washington cut purple and white lilacs to put in vases for her front hall. Thomas Jefferson favored lilacs and, in his horticultural diary, wrote about experimenting with various species at Monticello. No one knows for certain if a starter plant sailed across the Atlantic in the Mayflower, but lilacs definitely took root during Colonial days in America.
When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, poet Walt Whitman was inspired to write his revered elegy with the memorable opening stanza, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, and the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night…” Whitman’s words were considered one of the most famous evocations of political martyrdom in the history of literature.
The lilac is the eighth wedding anniversary flower.
The purple lilac is the symbol of first love, the white lilac symbolizes youthful innocence.
The bushes can live for hundreds of years and survive even in climates where temperatures plummet to minus-60-degrees Fahrenheit.
There are more than 1000 varieties of bushes and trees, featuring violet, blue, pink, red and purple blossoms. Some grow more than 25 feet high.
Lilacs are not only edible, they are potable! To wit: the Lilac Pisco Cocktail is concocted from fresh lilacs, lemon juice, a touch of mint and a large splash of St-Germain liquor. Cheers!
LILAC GIRLS: A Novel is currently a New York Times bestseller (and according to my friend Betty, it’s a “great read.”). Nancy Drew used her sleuthing skills in THE MYSTERY AT LILAC INN. Louisa May Alcott wrote UNDER THE LILACS, a children’s book about a runaway boy and his dog who encounter two young girls. Gothic Lit fans might enjoy DREAMS OF LILACS, which relates the saga of heroine Isabelle de Piaget after she is shipwrecked off the coast of France.
An old English tradition deems a lilac to be an unlucky flower which should not be carried into the house.
A venerable proverb states, “She who wears the lilac will never wear the wedding ring.”
Some intransigent bachelors occasionally sport a lilac boutonniere to “ward off feminine blandishments.”
I’ll give Walt Whitman the closing words:
"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.”