Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Common as dirt: lilacs and Caragana.

A wise Coloradoan knows better than to speak of the spring before midsummer: we are in the midst of the earliest and most floriferous spring ever...and still three or four weeks from the average date of last frost (our last hard frost was over a month ago....so we are talking a SEVERE variance!). What to make of it all?

Lilacs are blooming their bloody heads off: who cares? You can almost gauge the age of a neighborhood by the prevalance of Lilacs in Denver: older neighborhoods have the most. Of course, they get frosted every few years, and singed most years. But this year...THIS year, they are blooming like mad. These are pictures taken at my girlfriend, Jan Fahs', house in NW Denver.

I have rued the fact I can't seem to grow Daphne genkwa, whose main claim to fame is that it looks like a small lilac! Except it doesn't apparently smell....I mean--HELLLOOOOOO! What's the big deal? I have a thirty foot row of giant blue lilacs at my house and each time I stroll along the north side of my house I almost keel over with the smell.

A closer view: there are two kinds here (both classics): I should know what they are...but who cares? all lilacs are sublime! Oldtimers knew what they were up to. We should plant them everywhere all over again!

Here's a closeup of the Caragana: another old fashioned plant that's fallen out of fashion around Denver. You NEVER see it in new neighborhoods, but it too is fragrant and unlike forsythias, it blooms reliably every year.

"When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed" and "Breeding Lilacs out of the dead land": lilacs are featured in two of the greatest poems in American literature. They should be featured even more.

I like to make lavish bouquets with them and let them smell up the whole house. They bring back vast, vaporous memories of my childhood, of the park next door to my house that was ringed with lavender, blue, white, deep purple, single and double lilacs, and a few craggy Caragana (come to think of it)...from my infancy I would sate myself on their rich scent, and pick bouquets for my mother, and put sprigs behind my ear.

Common as dirt, and more precious than all the gold in the world. Gold merely gets you stuff (God only knows, we have way too much stuff as it is): lilacs give you a whiff of Heaven on earth!


  1. I too love my lilacs, as seen in the photo I put on facebook, along with another old and frequently unused plant, the lowly common violet. both evoke memories of making paper may baskets and sneaking over to the homes of my girl friends in Flagler, Colo, frequently during a May Day snow storm. Does anybody young or old still make up simple May Baskets? Here in southern extension of the great steppe, or in our case the Juniper savanna the lilacs usually do bloom as do old fashioned Forsythia.

  2. You lucky bum, Mr. Anonymous....You shall have me flagging down Flagler (which is a new one for me). We have had lilacs blooming reliably the last six years--almost unheard of here. Forsythias are a two in three year phenom (and always fried)...again they have bloomed well the last six years. Six years of amazing springs in Denver: perhaps climate change means we shall have more reliable springs? Or shall we have hell to pay in future springs?

  3. I grew up in Denver, in what by now probably counts as an older neighborhood (a lowering thought, all of a sudden), and yes, it seemed lilacs were everywhere. We had several giant bushes, as did the neighbors, as did the school grounds. We'd pick them at the entrance to give to the teachers. Mom was always excited if they managed to bloom before Mother's Day, which almost never happened--they certainly never bloomed in mid-April!

    Common as dirt plants are the ones memories are made of, not the rare, hybrid Johnny-come-lately's.

  4. Oddly, I too have blooming lilacs surrounding a large Caragana and beside a blooming Yellowhorn bush/tree! What surprises me most about this year's blooming lilacs are those that are a riot of color and yet have received absolutely no care, including supplemental water, for decades. JB


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