There are few flowers that I enjoy the fragrance of more than lilacs. Their heavenly scent floats on the breeze for a few fleeting weeks in spring, and I look forward to that time each year. It’s a time when I can bury my face among the lilac blooms and inhale deeply, reveling in the intoxicating fragrance. Now, the waiting is over, the lilac buds are just starting to open here in my zone 5 garden, and I can’t wait to take that first sniff.
When I do take in the scent of lilacs, I transport to my childhood. We always had lilac bushes in our yard when I was growing up. Lilacs were one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers. She missed them greatly when she moved south in her later years, as common lilacs require a cold period for their flower buds to mature and bloom. But she knew she could always come back and visit us when they were in flower. When she passed, my mother planted a lilac in her memory so that we too can see those beautiful blooms and think of Mimi.
It’s not surprising that when I think of lilacs, I reminisce about the past. Many of us that live where lilacs grow probably remember our grandparents growing these bushes. These long-lived shrubs were a favorite back in the day. Commonly planted on old farmsteads near outhouses, the pleasant smell of the lilacs helped mask the unpleasantness of the outhouse. These hardy shrubs can live up to 100 years or more, often outliving the gardeners that plant them and growing for generations to enjoy.
Lilacs have long been entwined in history, offering many cultural significances. In Greek mythology, lilacs played a leading role in the story of Pan and Syringa. They have inspired artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet and poets such as Walt Whitman. Past U.S. presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have grown lilacs in their gardens. Lilacs have also been used for medicinal purposes as cures for infections, stomach disorders, and fever reduction. The pleasant scent of the lilac infuses perfumes and cosmetics, and they have come to symbolize traits such as purity, spirituality, happiness, love, and passion.
A member of the Oleaceae family, which also includes olives, ash, and jasmine, lilacs have more than 1,000 varieties, coming in many colors, shapes, and sizes. There are seven official colors: white, violet, blue, lavender, pink, magenta, and purple, and the florets, the tiny flowers that make up the larger flower heads, can have one row of petals (single), or two (double).
Years ago, I chose to plant the beautiful cultivar Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’ with its unusual bicolor flowers. I wanted to carry on the family tradition of growing a lilac bush in my yard. When these lilacs, with their purple florets outlined in white, bloom each year, they remind me of my childhood home, mother, and lilac-loving grandmother, Mimi. She would have loved this variety, and she would have reveled in the scent just as I do each spring.
Source: Lilac Meaning and Symbolism