The Purple Lilac

The Syringa vulgaris, or Lilac, is a genus of about 20-25 species of flowers which typically grow in temperate or Mediterranean areas. What few people know is that this purple shrub is actually related to the olive – but that’s just trivia, pretty irrelevant for its meaning and appearance.

The flower gained attention since ancient times, when the Greeks even used it in their mythology, however, it is believed that the plant was grown since prehistoric times. As the legend goes, the god Pan with the nymph Syringa. Syringa was frightened because Pan had been chasing her through the forests. However, scared by his aspect, she ran away, frightened, and afraid of being caught, she turned herself into a fragrant flowering.

An illustration of Syringa, the nymph

The flower’s color varies from white to purple and in between. The lilac was extremely popular in the Victorian era, in the 1800s, when it was used to show the first emotions of love – it was often use to say “I’m starting to fall in love with you”. In some contexts, it can mean loving protection; the white variety is used to symbolize the uttermost purity, as well as youthful innocence. In Mediterranean cultures, the flower is associated with Easter and the start of the Spring. In the US however, I’ve seen the flower used for quite different symbols: Syringa vulgaris is the state flower of New Hampshire, because it “is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State”. Strange, but then again, I don’t live in New Hampshire, so what do I know.

In the absence of harsh conditions, Syringa grows anywhere from 2 to 10 meters, usually steming beautiful 20-30 cm purple flowers with a magnificent scent. The flowers are produced in the spring, in a dazzling display of color and smell. Lilac is a shrub, so it’s not really the kind of plant you want to grow indoor. However, if you have a garden, even a small one, you should know that they are low maintenance shrubs, really easy to take care of; they will offer a splendid view, a fantastic scent and once they grow, even some nice summer shade. Syringa doesn’t like too much water, which is why they usually thrive in sandy soils or on hillsides (again, this is just a preference, they do well in any soil type). Like any plants, lilacs will benefit from compost and humus worked into the soil to help retain water during dry spells and to provide additional nutrients. No fertilizer or additional substance is required.

They are susceptible to a few pests and diseases, mostly during hot and humid weather. If anything happens to them just be sure to contact your local florist and he’ll tell you what to do. Other than that, just keep the weeds to a minimum around them (it’s not even necessary to fully remove weeds) and if there’s a drought, give them a little watering – but not too much.

Growing white or purple lilacs is really really easy; just follow these common sense tips and watch them grow and thrive. Some people will tell you these plants are old fashioned or they’re your grandma’s flowers… but that’s just bull – and besides, your grandma knows best.

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