Mary Birk’s Blog: In Love with Lilacs

Whenever I smell lilacs, I think of my Grandma Lydia. Her North Dakota garden flourished with the big, fragrant purple bushes. My father was in the Air Force; we had no permanent home, so my grandparents’ home held that spot in my heart.

Up in the bedroom where my sisters and I slept on our summer visits, my grandma kept a wonderful collection of her old books. We read and re-read those books on each visit—including one by Louisa May Alcott called “Under the Lilacs.”  It’s an old-fashioned, sweet (and dated) story, but I loved it then.

Now, we have our own permanent home, and we have lots and lots of lilacs! Not just the classic light purple lilacs, though I still love those. They symbolize first love, which seems appropriate. They were my first lilac love! They’re also blessedly hardy once established. Hardy is a quality greatly appreciated by gardeners in semi-arid climates like Colorado. (We actually have cactus popping up uninvited in the orchard!)

Soon, I discovered the joy of white violets, which symbolize purity and innocence. I had to find places for them, of course. (My favorite white is the Madame Lemoine French lilac.) A few blue lilacs (peace) drifted in here and there. Next came magenta (love and passion). Then violet lilacs (spirituality) hooked me, and another hedge went in!

Probably the most famous poem about lilacs, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d by Walt Whitman, is actually an elegy written by the famous poet after President Lincoln’s assassination. His words about lilacs bringing thoughts of a lost loved one speak to me this year.

“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.”

This year, our lilacs are particularly spectacular, perhaps in their own elegy for the little boy who used to play around them, the young man who dug many holes to plant them.

What about you? Is there a flower that brings back memories, or breaks your heart when you smell it?

Madame Lemoine White Lilac
Madame Lemoine White Lilac

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