May 23, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

They are members of the olive family, among the earliest flowering plants imported to the United States. Planted near the front doors of flat, bare early Colonial house facades, they helped to create "dooryard gardens," which softened and brought beauty to a rough-hewn early America. Jefferson planted them; at Monticello, some of those bushes still bloom.. They gave Pan his pipes. They are employed as evocative symbols in American literature, song, and poetry, where they symbolize the sensuousness of love in its earliest stages. Festivals celebrate their blooming, and NOAA tracks the earliest leaves and flowers for evidence of climate change. The inability to smell it may be an early indication of Alzheimer's disease. No wonder people like to steal them.
posted by Miko (29 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I have a lilac tree in my backyard. It smells lovely this time of year.

posted by gurple at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2008

You know, I was just thinking about lilacs today. THey seem to be blooming early - althought I may be wrong. But, every year they really give me a shot of energy when I see them. They smell so good. (wonderful post Meeks)
posted by johnj at 12:59 PM on May 23, 2008

I confess I have stolen lilacs in the past for my wife, who loves them. But now we have our own lilac in the backyard. Woohoo! (And thanks for the post!)
posted by languagehat at 1:00 PM on May 23, 2008

I used to think he was pretty funny but he really lost it after 9/11.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:05 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Optimus Chyme, have you recently noticed an inability to smell lilacs?
posted by saladin at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2008

mmmnn, lilacs. those and crocus were always indications of spring in Buffalo when i was growing up.
posted by billybobtoo at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2008

hear ya, billybobtoo. for me, it was lilacs and the flowering magnolia trees. ah, spring. blessed spring.

posted by CitizenD at 1:19 PM on May 23, 2008

Oh man, I miss the lilacs in Michigan - so many of them grew in GIANT hedgerows along the side of the road you could fill a pickup truck with them and never make a dent. The smell was heavenly....

If I move back there, it will be because of the lilacs.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:24 PM on May 23, 2008

There's something very touching about lilacs to me, for some reason. The short time that they bloom and how the scent activates memories of springtime. They were on the rarish side where I grew up, but when I came to New England I fell in love with them. I'll never forget driving away from Portland, Maine, in the early 90s, when we passed a DOT truck and some highway workers. They were pruning lilacs to get them out of the roadway - they were filling entire dumptrucks with lilac blooms. It was heartbreaking. We stopped to ask if we could take them, and they let us load up the back dash with lilac blossoms. Mmmmm.
posted by Miko at 1:24 PM on May 23, 2008

Don't forget Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. Of all the flowering plants in the Arboretum, only the Lilac is singled out for a special day.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 1:33 PM on May 23, 2008

Our new house has a lilac tree in front. We're moving in just too late for this year's bloom, but I am sure as hell looking forward to next year.
posted by dersins at 1:38 PM on May 23, 2008

I have some lilacs right next to the garden we were putting in last year, so to me, the scent always makes me think of working my ass off under a brutal sun and pushing myself to the point of having to collapse in the grass from exhaustion.

It's kind of nice, actually.
posted by quin at 1:48 PM on May 23, 2008

Oh I miss lilacs! They basically symbolize the beginning of summer in Central New York where I grew up. No lilacs in NC! *sobs*
posted by katyggls at 1:48 PM on May 23, 2008

If you pick a single blossom from a cluster, then suck on the end, it's very sweet.

Been seein' the lilacs on my bike rides around Portland too, Miko. Cool.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:59 PM on May 23, 2008

Great post.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on May 23, 2008

Nabokov at the start of Zashchita Luzhina (The Defense) sums up the course of the "swift dacha summer" as "сирень, сенокос, сухие листья" [sirén', senokós, sukhíye lístya]—lilacs, hay-cutting, dry leaves—which I've always thought was perfect.
posted by languagehat at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Great post Miko! Just thinking about lilacs lifts my mood.

Too bad they're gone for the season already.
posted by redfisch at 2:36 PM on May 23, 2008

Not in western Mass they're not!

posted by languagehat at 2:38 PM on May 23, 2008

My favorite's the "blue boy" - it's still a pretty small plant but the fragrance is wonderful and the color rich! We've learned a lot about lilacs from a fellow over in Freeport who owns THE domain name. Our plants are now just coming in full bloom.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:49 PM on May 23, 2008

They just started blooming here this week! That's what made me think of 'em.
posted by Miko at 2:51 PM on May 23, 2008

Miko, you missed this one! (with thanks to aftermarketradio)
posted by nax at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, thank you! Along with hydrangeas and lilies, lilacs are my favorite flowers and I cannot get enough of the smell. There is nothing I love more than walking down the street on a sunny day and catching the scent of lilacs.
posted by lysistrata at 5:09 PM on May 23, 2008

There are lilacs lining the road on the way to work. Its beautiful.
posted by sandraregina at 6:48 PM on May 23, 2008

I love, love, love lilacs! I used to live in Spokane, Washington, which calls itself the Lilac City, and their blooming, usually in April, signaled that spring was in the air, heralded by their heavenly scent. Sigh, there are no lilacs where I live now but I did find some lilacs in Tomales, which made my day!
posted by Lynsey at 9:25 PM on May 23, 2008

I had a lilac bush outside my window as a child, planted for me by my midwestern father, who loved lilacs from when he was a boy. It was the only part of the house that was shielded enough from the scorching central Californian sun to let the lovely blooms survive for a little while. I'd sleep with the windows open, even when it was a bit cold and I had to wrap myself in two quilts, just to smell them. Thanks for bringing back the memories with this post, Miko!
posted by Grrlscout at 7:56 AM on May 24, 2008

Alas, I don't have a lilac in my yard. That's something to put in, I think. Our neighbours do, though, and it's a requisite when I walk the dog to stop and smell. And smell. And smell.

posted by Savannah at 9:26 AM on May 24, 2008

What's not to like about lilacs: they're almost all blooming now in this part of Scandinavia.

Mikhail Vrubel's Lilacs.
posted by misteraitch at 10:05 AM on May 24, 2008

I was so inspired by this thread that I ran over to the garden shop to buy a lilac bush, only to discover that the ones remaining were in poor condition and not expected to blossom much more this season. So I bought an Asiatic lily instead and now my car smells great though sort of like going to a funeral.
posted by etaoin at 7:20 PM on May 24, 2008

When I was a child growing up in Ottawa, I always had a soft spot for lilacs because they reminded me that school would be letting out for the year soon. I find that as a child I needed more concrete reminders of certain events and the lovely fragrance of lilacs was something that would stick in my mind...

To this day, I still love the scent of lilacs as it still reminds me of a pleasant childhood memory. I was very happy when I moved into the house that I presently live in; for it had a huge purple lilac tree to the side of the front yard, and a small white lilac tree in the backyard. It's wonderful to catch the delicate fragrance as it drifts through the open windows.

The lilacs are in full bloom throughout the city of Montreal right now; as my friend and I noticed as we took a leisurely drive along the St. Laurence river on Sunday. We saw all shapes and sizes from small bushes to *huge* trees and ranging from pure white to standard lilac to the deepest purples. Thank you for a lovely post!
posted by Jade Dragon at 12:58 PM on May 27, 2008

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