(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 5, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Would it be too goofy actually to use a lilac colored font for this article? I think . . . yes, it would. Because nothing about the lilacs I saw at Boston's Arnold Arboretum was goofy. Glorious, gorgeous, gigantic, graceful, but not goofy.
Lilac Sunday is the second Sunday in May at the Arnold Arboretum. While most of the Boston area is celebrating Mother's Day with the rest of the country, hardcore lilac lovers are touring the Arboretum, purchasing Lilac Sunday commemorative T-shirts, having snacks on the lawns or buying Italian ice.
During most of the year the Arboretum is relatively quiet and peaceful. People take their dogs for a run, teach their kids to ride a bike, or just take a quiet walk in the evening. Of course, the Arboretum is a 'tree museum' for Harvard University. But on Lilac Sunday, enthusiasts of the genus Syringa from around New England flock to the Arnold Arboretum.
There is a contest each year to design a Lilac Sunday T-shirt, and shirts with the winning design are for sale. Lilac Sunday is the ONLY DAY that vendors of any kind are allowed at the Arboretum.
Lilac Sunday has been celebrated since 1908,
at least, that's the year it is first mentioned in the local media.
(Mothers' Day was not signed into Federal law until a few years later.)
There are "over 422 lilac plants of approximately 194 different kinds in the Arnold Arboretum collections." The collection of lilacs might be overwhelming, if they weren't so well displayed. Each lilac, in fact, each tree at the Aboretum has a metal tag attached identifying it, and most also have a white label nearby explaining who they are and what they're doing there.
The lilac Syringa oblata and its copper tag.
There are wonderful lilacs bred to commemorate uniquely Bostonian people or events, such as the white lilac, Syringa 'Frederick Law Olmsted', honoring my hero. You can read all about him in this article.
And S. 'Lilac Sunday', honoring the day itself, a 1997 introduction.
Except for 'President Lincoln' (which also appears in the thumbnail picture), I hadn't heard of any of the other people or places immortalized by having cultivars named after them. Lilac breeders try to extend the season of bloom, to vary the color or shape of the leaves, the petals or the blossoms, to bred more or less strongly scented lilacs. They try to breed shrubs that are more compact, that are more resistant to disease, and to breed ones that will bloom on all woody growth, not just old growth. Originally, all the lilacs bloomed during the same two-week period; now, they bloom over a four to six week spread! That is why only certain lilacs are featured in this article... I didn't go back for more, two and three weeks later.
S. 'Gertrude Leslie' (note blooms on low suckers) S. 'Hulda'
S. 'Paul Thirion' S. 'President Lincoln'
Syringa 'Albert F. Holden' (note multi-colored effect between silvery, outer opened petals and darker, violet-black inner and rosy-red unopened petals)
S. 'Arch McKean'. There were so many shades of "lilac!"
Here, I am admiring an anonymous specimen on Lilac Row.
S. 'Sensation' has different colored petals—this is the one I'm growing until it's big enough for my husband to plant.
The Syringa reticulata below is the oldest lilac in the collection, grown from a seed brought over from Japan in 1876. It wasn't in bloom the day we were there, but it was still magnificent, presiding regally over the row of lilacs.
When it bloomed in June, I took some pictures of the S. reticulata in my own back yard. It has a lovely, sweet, subtle scent and an ivory blossom.
If you ever have the oppourtunity to visit the Boston area during May or early June, please don't miss the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum!
MOST PHOTOS ARE THE PROPERTY OF bbrookrd OR THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM, WHOM I THANK FOR GENEROUSLY ALLOWING ME TO USE THEM HERE.