Liilacs and Peonies: Perfume of the Gods

Of all the spring fragrances – daffodils, hyacinths, lily of the valley, honeysuckle – I think lilacs are my favorite. There is nothing that compares to the fresh clean scent of lilacs during the spring blooming season. French lilacs are the most popular varieties you will find for sell in the garden center and these should be allowed to grow to approximately eight feet tall before pruning. When they are the proper height, you should start pruning branches to control the height and thinning out older branches to help prevent disease, remove dead branches and encourage new growth.

The time to prune and thin a lilac is immediately after blooming. Lilacs bloom on old wood, so spring pruning allows the branches to grow throughout the summer and fall and prepare for blooming again next spring. The worse thing you can do is prune these lilacs in late winter, because if you do, you will be cutting off all the new blooms. Thinning out the dead or overcrowded branches helps prevent the invasion of the stem borer which can attack the dead wood and eventually kill the lilac.

The best time to transplant lilacs is in the fall, but I have had success with early spring planting. If you plant lilacs in the spring, you must keep the plant moist. Since lilacs need to be planted in full sun, they will dry out easily, which can lead to sudden death. Lilacs also need good circulation because they are prone to mildew. The old fashioned lilacs from our grandmothers past are particularly prone to mildew and this shows up like a white powder on the leaves of the bush.

Lilacs also like to “pout” when they are transplanted. As long as you follow the suggestions above, your lilacs will eventually thrive, but they will show their displeasure by being stingy with the blooms for several years after the move. BE PATIENT – the lilacs will settle down and within five years will return to a profusion of springtime blooms.

Another springtime fragrance I love is peonies. These flowers always remind me of my Granny Sallee, because this was a flower she had growing every where she has lived. Down on the farm in Bohon, she had many peony bushes in all colors. When she and Granddaddy had to move to town, she dug up several peony roots and brought them with her. These thrived under the clothesline in their backyard.

So I have peonies lining my driveway. I started out with one each of the pink, red and white peonies. Over the past fifteen years, I have divided these three original plants into dozens of different clumps and they all give me profusion of blooms each spring. My husband calls my peonies the “ant plant” because the plant is invaded with large black ants when the blooms start to grow. The ants are attracted to the sweet sticky nectar that oozes from the flower buds. As the ants work to drink all the oozing nectar, they are also helping the tightly formed buds to open. The ants are harmless and I would dare anyone to try and find a peony that did not have ants scurrying around.

Peonies and lilacs are the basis for the Mother’s Day bouquets I pick for my Mom and my mother-in-law every year. Nature’s perfume, the fresh clean scent always makes me happy and brings me many memories of my grandparents.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    I love your description of the pouting lilacs. I’m saddened now that I gave up on a lilac plant that appeared beyond help; if only I had hung on five years!


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