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10 Neat Things About Lilacs
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

May 13, 2019

1. Syringa.

The Latin name for lilac is Syringa. It refers to a hollow pipe or tube. Lilac wood is extraordinarily hard, but the younger branches have, apparently, a fairly soft pith that is easy to hollow out.

2. They aren't Canadian.

Although you will come across lilacs in a clearing in the woods, they are not indigenous to Canada. Chances are someone planted the lilac where you find it; most likely there was a homestead there at some point in the past. Some people say it was early settlers marking their territory in an unclaimed land. Others say it was new Canadians planting a little bit of their past in their new home.

3. They are Canadian.

The species might not be Canadian, but several cultivars are. Lilacs are very hardy and, starting with Lucille Preston in the 1920s, were bred in Canada. Miss Preston was a rare female working in horticulture a hundred years ago at the Ottawa Experimental Farm. She developed at least 71 cultivars, using mostly Syringa reflexa and S. villosa. FW Skinner developed several more in Morden, Manitoba. Several are available today.

4. Trees.

S. reticulata grows as a tree. Commonly called a Japanese tree lilac, it will grow to a height of 20 to 40 feet with creamy blooms in late spring or early summer. 'Ivory Silk' is a common cultivar. It is hardy to Zone 2.

5. Variegated flower.

There is one lilac with variegated flowers in common cultivation. S. vulgaris 'Sensation' has a purple centre with a white border.

6. Variegated leaf.

There is another lilac with a variegated leaf. S. vulgaris 'Aucubaefolia' has medium green leaves dappled with yellow. I would love to talk to a hybridizer to find out why there are no more variegated flowers and leaves in lilacs.

7. Dwarfs.

Called Korean lilacs, there are a handful of varieties ('Miss Kim' and 'Palibin' are two) that will grow to about 5 feet rather than 10 feet. I would call these small lilacs rather than dwarf.

8. Yellow.

All lilacs are white, pink, lavender, purple or burgundy. Except S. vulgaris 'Primrose'. Particularly if you have cool summers, these lilacs are quite yellow. If you have a hot summer, though, they are barely more yellow than ivory.

9. Reblooming.

There was a reblooming lilac cultivar called 'Josee', developed in France in the 70s. About 10 years ago, Proven Winners developed a new one, probably with 'Josee' as one of the parents, called 'Bloomerang'. 'Bloomerang' is a catchier title with a marketing campaign behind it. It won a lot of gardeners' hearts. Curiously, a number of horticulturalists eschewed it, saying that it wasn't natural to smell lilacs in the late summer.

10. Fire retardant.

Lilacs are fire resistant. They do burn, but not so easily. You can use lilacs next to your house without worry.

Copyright Pegasus Publications Inc.

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