Lilac, What a Temptation!
I grew up seeing Syringa blooms every spring: lilac, mauve or white, simple or double, their blooms have always attracted me. People in our country often grow lilac in their front gardens, just behind the fence, so when they are blooming, everyone can see them from the street. It's every gardener's pride to show what a beautiful lilac he has! It's the same for the gardens around the buildings in the cities.
Like all my other friends in my childhood, I loved "taking" flowers or fruits from other gardens. In our neighborhood in Bucharest, with mostly tall buildings and small gardens around them, it wasn't hard to do that. The gardens were surrounded of hedges and every hedge had at least one breakthrough where children could sneak into the garden. It upset me when the flowers didn't last long in a vase, so at some point I stopped ripping them off from the lilac bushes. But that wasn't the only reason I stopped doing that.
We had a leader in our group, an older girl who knew where we could find the most beautiful flowers and where we could sneak in - it was like a heritage, passing on from generation to generation! The lilac was our main attraction because they were so beautiful and so many, almost in every garden - even in the cemetery, but who would have gone in there to take it? The temptation was as strong as the lilac's scent, which seemed to attract us as much as it attracted the bees. But, as I think more, I suppose it was also the people selling lilac on the street that tempted us to want a lilac bouquet in our hands, possibly to offer to our moms and have its scent spreading throughout our apartments. We had lilac in our block's garden too, but we didn't dare to take it from there, yet the top flowering branches almost always disappeared from the bushes, just after they were starting to bloom. Yes, there were many kids in our neighborhood in those days and they didn't have iPad tablets or Android phones or even computers to play with, so they had to play outside - poor, poor kids from old times!
My story starts one May day, when the lilacs were blooming and spreaded their scent all over our neighborhood. My friends and I were excited that the day had come and we would have a lilac branch in our hands, together with other flowers we could "take." Our parents didn't need to know - it would be a surprise!
Our older friend took a group of 7 or 8 of us to a nice garden where two lilac trees, one double white and one double purple, were in full bloom. The garden was loaded, with tulips, irises, wallflowers, pansies, you name it! We found the breach and sneaked into the garden. The older girl was the tallest, so she had to take the lilac, while we were taking other flowers. Suddenly someone shouted at her, a man who was living downstairs. I don't really know how he managed to get into the garden so fast - he probably jumped over the balcony. He grabbed our friend, while we all ran out of the garden. But when we heard him shouting at her, we came closer and asked him to leave her alone. We even asked him to forgive us and promised we would never trespass into his garden again. After muttering a lot of blue words at us, he finally let our friend go and us too, without any other repercussions.
We learned a lesson that day, and none of us ever attempted to take flowers from other people's gardens, not ever again! I must confess I truly understand that man now, but I could never act like him, especially with a child. However, that was a lesson for me and I've learned it. From then on I admired lilac only from outside of any garden I passed by; fortunately they are plentiful in our country! Later on, I loved taking pictures of the lilac bushes and even for that I was feeling somehow embarassed.
The lesson might have had an influence on my gardening hobby too because, despite of that man's temper, I truly admired his garden and kept on admiring it every year, while passing by it on my way to school. I'm happy to report we all became friends with him later and he even told me once that he knew we really loved flowers and understood that was why we wanted to take them back then - and he couldn't be more right.
When I grew up, I had the opportunity to learn how to prune a tree or a bush by pruning an old lilac bush for the first time in years. It was a big lilac in our block's garden which had been neglected for years. It had lots of sprouts around it every year and so many branches growing on it, but no flowers at all. Under a neighbor's guidance, I began pruning the old lilac very early in the spring. I now know it wasn't the best timing and it had precious few blooming panicles that spring. Later, when I became more experienced in gardening, I transformed the old bush and the other younger lilacs in the garden in trees, by pruning all their lower branches. That's how I saw the gardening people in the park were pruning all the lilacs. Training the lilac as a tree suited me because it provided more space for many other plants I planted around the base of the lilac.
My gardening experience with lilacs helped me later for growing one of my own in the garden around my house. Luckily, now I have one mauve (a baby from the one I had in the block's garden) and one purple, which my Mom grew for me. This spring I got two more, one white and one purple, both double. I'm keeping the same tree shape for my lilacs because I also have lots of flowers around them in my garden, including columbines, tulips, pansies, foxgloves, daisies, dianthus, forsythia and many roses.
Recently I was surprised to find out that lilac belongs to the family Oleaceae, same as forsythia and olive. I don't have olives in my garden, but I have the other two which seem to be cousins! When I first had this article about lilac in mind, I wanted a little more information about the plant, so I Googled it. What was I thinking? I found myself on a speeding roller-coaster of scientific informations that gave me a headache. I just wanted to know what were the main common characteristics of the plants in the Oleaceae family and here I was reading a lot about how the plants in this family have been redistributed in new tribes according to recent chemical analysis, because they couldn't be classificated otherwise as they don't all have common characteristics. It was good to know that common lilac belongs to the Oleeae tribe and Forsythia to Forsithyeae tribe. I was surprised to see that their flowers are similar, with petals joined at the base to form a tube.
That is all I need to know and maybe that's all you want or need to know, too. There's no need to fill our heads with boring scientific explanations when we can fill our senses with lilac's beautiful and scented flowers!
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