Planting Lilacs


I planted 48 lilac whips in the rain yesterday. Two more will go in after I pull a rock the size of a microwave that I was too tired, wet, and muddy to deal with at the end of the day.

My hope is that in twenty years these lilacs will be a fragrant, blooming hedge fifteen feet high and over a hundred feet long. I wonder if I will be alive and on the farm to see it. Planting seedling trees and shrubs is an act of optimism and these days I’m feeling a little battered.

Still, I love lilacs, a quintessential feature of every New England farmyard. In the springtime as you drive back roads, you often see gnarled lilacs blooming beside old cellar-holes or abandoned cottages. The Latin name is Syringa vulgaris — common lilac — but in fact lilacs are a foreign import, a member of the olive family and native to the Balkan peninsula. Lilacs only made it to America in the 18th century. However they are so hardy they quickly naturalized and today are indeed common. The Soil and Water Conservation Service sells lilac whips for $1 apiece — my kind of pricing.

I planted these along a rough retaining wall Allen built out of odd rocks when we were installing the septic system in 2009 and needed to terrace the sloping ground. This wall was an afterthought, a utilitarian feature built in less than an hour, and not as beautiful as the rest. With luck the lilacs will grow up to hide the rocks, while providing spring beauty and a shelter-belt for birds.

In the meantime there is a lot of clean-up to do around the baby shrubs: liming, mulching with compost and then a layer of newspaper covered by woodchips, weedwhacking encroaching weeds, tidying away all the turned-over rocks and sods. But that can wait for another day or, more realistically, days. I have so many projects going at once that all of them end up being drawn-out affairs — in some cases, over years. At this point I’m pleased simply to have the lilacs in the ground.

It’s worth the day in wet clothes and the mud-smeared bug bites.



3 Responses to Planting Lilacs

  1. Elaine Murphy says:

    I love lilacs, one of my favorite spring flowers….Growing up we had a natural fence of lilacs my mother planted from shoots from my Aunt’s lilac bushes. They were over 50 years old when my sister sold the house. She also took shoots from those lilacs and replanted them in her yard. Your lilacs will fill in very quickly and look like they have always been there!

  2. I love my lilacs and unless your part of NY state is very different from central PA, you wil not have to wait twenty years. On our place the old fashioned, found it on the farm when we got here variety is quickest to fill in the hedgerow. The white and dark purple are slower but their fragrance is lovely.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thanks, Lilac Hill. I believe these are the old fashioned lilacs, not a hybrid. We are a lot colder in the Adirondack High Peaks than you are in PA, but the big thing is that my soil is awful. I’m going to lime and manure these lilacs in hopes of giving them a boost.

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