entertainingflowers a-zFood & Drinksarah from blossom and branch

flowers a-z: l is for lilac

by SarahB

Greetings, sweet flower fans. April showers bring May . . . LILAC! Well, it starts to show up in April, but let’s not split hairs :) “L” is for lilac, people, and this extraordinary, abundant, fragrant bloom comes just in time as we emerge (finally? truly?) from this long winter.

Syringa or “lilac” is actually a genus comprised of around 25 different species of woodland blossoming plants in the olive family. The flowers show up in a range of purples and whites, but they are most commonly associated with the pale, mauve color we have come to know as “lilac.”

Lilac is powerfully fragrant and is native to a wide swath covering Southeastern Europe through Eastern Asia. The woody lilac stem is extremely durable and is sometimes used in carvings or to create musical instruments. A more delicate use of lilac is for tea derived from the leaves, flowers and even some of the more spindly branches.

Lilac is decidedly a spring flower with a short blooming season — it is on full display from April through May and then falls dormant again until the following year. For me, this makes lilac an even greater treasure, and something I cherish for a fleeting few weeks. The blooming of lilac is also a lovely way to mark time and create traditions — I try and plan a special trip to a lilac farm or public garden at least once during each blooming season. I tend to associate lilac with classic, English gardens . . . more on this in a minute.

Please join me after the jump where I will show you an English-garden inspired floral vignette! — Sarah

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post after the jump!

The most important thing to know when working with lilac is that after you cut the stems (with strong clippers or a branch lopper), you must hammer the ends of the stems to split them (as shown above). This is critically important, as you are creating a pathway for the water to travel up to the blossoms. Lilac needs to drink a lot. When you hammer the stems, the outer wooden shell should split away to reveal a creamy, softer wood layer. There is a fine line between hammering to split the stems open and pulverizing the stems to bits, so after a few good whacks with a hammer, check the stems — if they are intact but split, you are good to go!

The next step when working with lilac is to take the split stems and dunk them in a generous bucket (or vase) of hot water. That’s right — hot water. The hot water will soften the tough stems so the flowers can drink. Leave the lilac in the hot water for at least an hour to let it really soak well. After that point, you can feel free to cut the stems to place in an arrangement of cool water with other flowers, just make an effort to hammer the stems again.

My inspiration for this post was imagining pruning lilac out of an English garden and arranging it simply in milk glasses with other garden blooms. Above, three charming milk-glass containers with three to five stems of lilac in each. You could, of course, stop there and have a lovely arrangement. But . . .

It seems to me that we should add some funky celosia (sometimes called “brain flower”) to the mix. I love the royal magenta paired with the purple, and the unexpected shape of the celosia with a branchy element.

Fuzzy lamb’s ears strike me as very English and garden-y, and I think the silvery hue is a beautiful complement to the lilac.

We have created a fabulous perch for some lavender and sweet peas with our bushy lilac and other sturdy elements.

Some people prefer to work with only one fragrant bloom at a time, but I think the more the merrier :) The lavender and sweet peas provide softer notes, like mixing a perfume.

And finally, anemones, at the tail end of their season, function as an outstanding “face” flower and a whimsical touch for this garden grouping.

If you haven’t already, find out if there is a public garden near you that has lilac. Go there and inhale the unique and evocative fragrance, experience the fluffy blooms, take in the soft shades, and then join me back here in two weeks when “m” will be for . . .

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  • thank you so much for the hint to hammer the stems, the last lics i picked got dry within hours, now i i’ll give it a second try :)
    beautiful photos of course, as always!

  • Gorgeous! Thanks for the info on cutting, I didn’t know that! I have been cutting lilacs for years so maybe they will last longer now. I love the pics, beautiful arrangements. Lilacs are by far my favorite spring bloom!

  • absolutely in love with this post, thank you for the care tips! i bought a huge bunch for easter and they would’ve lasted much longer if i’d known. i really like those lambs’ ears too :-)

  • Your lilac arrangements are lovely. Our lilacs aren’t blooming yet with the overly cool April we’re having this year. Thanks for the tips! I’m looking forward to making some arrangements for my home.

  • I LOVE Lilacs! Those bouquets are so pretty! When I was a little girl I used to pet the lamps ears that my mom grew in our front yard. One day I want to have a garden filled with the flowers I love! =)

  • In my very Irish household, we were taught that bringing liliacs into the house is bad luck. So at my house, any cut lilacs are for outdoor festivities. Anyone else heard this superstition?

  • Lilacs are my absolute favorite! They remind me of being a teenager at prom – we used to have our picture taken every year next to the big lilac bush in our yard and it was always in full bloom!

  • In Poland we are waiting for lilac, it is about to open it’s beautiful little flowers! Do you know also this little superstition – you have to find find petal flower and you will have luck? it is like a four leaf clover!

  • I love this post *so much*. I’m in CO right now and they haven’t bloomed yet but so close! In Russia, my mom told me, lilacs are given as a symbol of romance. I’m pretty sure that it just grows in every yard in the spring (romantic season no?) and you can’t just go empty handed on a date so..

  • I love lilacs! We’re lucky to have 2 bushes at our house, but here in Michigan, they don’t bloom til May. Enjoy your early bloomers!

  • Great info but I like BIG my arrangements are usually a 2′ tall I will send you a pic when I get one. Love lilacs make the entire house fragrant!

  • Ohhh I’m so glad you posted this! I absolutely LOVE lilacs! Growing up in Wisconsin, our next door neighbors had huge hedges of lilacs as a barrier to the alleyway…such a divine fragrance…

    However since moving to Texas, where it’s too hot and sandy for lilacs, I’ve been longing for these blooms every spring… :(