My love of lilacs has taken me, in the moonlight while stealthily clutching clippers, behind Bradbury’s Market in Cape Porpoise, into a neighbor’s backyard in Kennebunk Beach, even into churchyards when I lived in northern New Jersey.
Snip, snip, snip and not a bit of guilt.
How could I justify this thievery? Easily. I reasoned that lilacs blooming in churchyards were a gift from God, and that churchyards belong to all children of God, not just Methodists, Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Am I wrong?
I believed the overgrown copse of lilacs behind Bradbury’s Market actually benefitted from my tiny bit of trimming. It was obvious no one else in town was pruning them. They needed my help!
And my Kennebunk neighbor? Actually, she was a snowbird who stayed in Florida until mid-June. I was doing her a favor by deadheading bushes that bloom in May. Come autumn, it would be one less chore before she returned south.
I never felt the urge to sneak onto someone’s property and scarf their roses or dahlias. I’ve never snatched one zucchini from a friend's Victory Garden. I do have standards and lilacs were my specialty. Few flowers smell better, last longer in a Waterford vase or give me more pleasure than lilacs, especially purloined lilacs.
I fell into this sinful habit by accident. In a nutshell: I didn’t have any bushes in my backyard. Which meant I had to buy them at a florist and WHO KNEW when they had been picked. I wanted the freshest blossoms I could find. And yes, the price was right.
Then, one day I was driving past the Old Paramus Reformed Church on Glen Avenue in Ridgewood, New Jersey. It was mid-May, the sun was shining, my car windows were open and the unmistakable scent of lilacs filled the air. Since I don’t normally carry pruning shears in my purse, I knew I’d be returning that evening after the kids were in bed. And so it all began.
I wasn’t concerned that in “olde England,” lilacs are considered unlucky flowers and should never be brought into a house. I’d heard the proverb that stated, “She who wears the lilac will never wear the wedding ring.” Heck, I filched lilacs for years and wore two wedding rings all that time. Superstitions never tempered my predilection.
I just loved everything about lilacs. In school I learned that syringa vulgaris took root during colonial days in America. On sunny May afternoons at Mount Vernon, Martha Washington cut purple and white lilacs to put in vases for her front hall buffet. Thomas Jefferson favored lilacs and, in his horticultural diary, wrote about experimenting with various special at Monticello.
But that’s history, as are my days as a lilac thief. I had a good run but it’s over now. Several years ago I planted purple and white lilac bushes around my house. After a pathetic start, they have finally come into full fabulous fruition. I only have to walk out my front door to cut the beauties and bring them indoors.
Rest assure, your yard is safe.