Bookshelf:

Lilacs for the Garden
There is something magical in spring when my lilacs burst forth with the most wonderful flowers and scents. I love the history of the lilac 'Plant a lilac and you plant a memory'.

Often forgotten because they have been around so long, it truly is worth having one in your own garden if you can grow them there.

This book traces the journey of a plant that will grow well everywhere, in every soil, from it's origins in Asia through Europe and the UK to North America some 250 years ago.

An excellent resource book.

Review by Art Drysdale...

Lilacs for the garden, by eastern Ontario garden writer Jennifer Bennett is an excellent book on a very special-ized, yet nostalgic topic. Almost everyone--gardener or not--knows lilacs, at least the most common ones known as French hybrids (Sy-ringa vulgaris). Many people--especially those who grew up in rural surroundings or those who may remember them from hedge-type plantings in older parts of cities--have fond recollections of the heavenly scent each May from lilac shrubs.

At the outset, author Bennett says “…lilacs aren’t trendy. Drive through the flashiest, priciest suburbs, past the newest condos and townhouses, and you’ll be lucky to see a lilac at all. You might see geometric cedars, big hydrangeas, magnolias, weeping mulberries, the colourful leaves of euonymus and spiraea and, where weather permits, azaleas, camellias and Japanese maples. But not lilacs. Most of them are down the road in the gardens of a generation or two ago, in the downscale older part of town.”

She also adds, “It seems a contradiction. Even as the choices among lilacs climb into the hundreds, they’ve been eclipsed as shrubs of fashion. Why? Grow them next to the townhouse plantings, and you’ll see.

Lilacs lack the in-your-face brilliance of azaleas, the precision of trimmed evergreens, the over-the-top profusion of hydrangeas and rhododendrons, the tropical seduction of magnolias. From a distance, lilac flowers are a haze of colour. Lilacs are more subtle than many other flowering shrubs, appreciated more by the nose than by the eyes. Only close-up do you see their beauty, the profusion of petals, the singles and doubles, the colours that shift as bud opens into flower.

When their blooming season is done, they fade into obscurity. For a generation raised to believe that beauty and youth go on forever, lilacs are reminders of the brevity of both. “All of which, I think, makes the lilac the perfect shrub for today’s discerning gardener. A lilac forms a rela-tionship with its owner. No other tall shrub will perfume your evenings so sweetly, reminding you to slow down, to live for just this moment as people did centuries ago. No other will promise you something to remem-ber decades from now, when the ephemeral bursting of May will recall the perfume of lilacs by your door.”

That quote is from the book’s introduction. That alone made me realize that this could be a good book, and it is!

In the seven chapters that follow, Jennifer Bennett gives an excellent history of lilac shrubs, their places in the landscape whether alone or in groupings, their use with herbaceous perennials, and a good last chapter on “Li-lac Aid” which is quite neatly sub-titled “Why won’t it bloom?”

This latter is excellent, but though she mentions everything almost anyone could imagine could cause non-blooming of lilacs, there is no mention of one possible solution that often works, at least in southern Ontario and anywhere else that alkaline soils may be a problem. That solution is to apply a handful or two or horticul-tural lime at the time of planting, and often once each year.

I’ve not mentioned the fine list of lilac species and cultivars--virtually any lilac you’ll find at any nursery or garden centre--plus a good listing of special and not-well-known plants of interest to connoisseurs. An excellent example is the two variegated-foliage Himalayan lilacs (Syringa emodi ‘Aurea’ and S.e. ‘Aureovariegata’). I would love to have one of these, particularly since they are somewhat resistant to powdery mildew disease, which can be a problem where I garden!

And, I must not leave out the excellent colour photos that appear throughout the book. By my fast check, about two of every three double-page spreads have a full-page colour photo!

I noted few if any errors of fact, which is getting to be unusual with new books! It was funny to see, on page 32, the suggestion to use “the grass killer 2,4-D (Roundup) directly to the circle of sod…..” in order to avoid lawn mowers damaging the shrubs’ trunks.

This is a common error, but I would have thought a book of this calibre would have gotten it correct. 2,4-D is NOT a grass killer--it kills only broadleaf plants (weeds) in grass, whereas Roundup (glyphosate) kills nearly all green vegetation (grass as well as broadleaf plants), including the roots of contacted plants, but there is no transfer through the soil, or even through the roots of a treated plant to the roots of untreated ones. On page 39 she writes about root pruning of shrubs in preparation for a move. I would argue strongly that plunging down a spade all around the drip spread of the shrub is far superior to just one-half of the circumfer-ence as she suggests.

I also think Jennifer is somewhat optimistic when she suggests that potential buyers can ascertain whether plants offered for sale in mail-order catalogues are “grafted” or “own-root” plants. Definitely, “own-root” plants are superior to those grafted but I am sure all catalogues offering some that are grafted will not so state that fact. One final point I questioned, just for those in climate zones 6 and 7, the book clearly states that spring planting is preferred for lilacs. I don’t discount that, but there is a school of thought in Ontario that says late November is the ideal time for planting lilacs. It has certainly worked well for a group of enthusiasts I know.

These small imperfections aside, this is a great book on a forgotten genus--the lovely lilacs.

Book Review by Jodi Delong...

In my gardening year, I await certain events with expectant glee. One of the most anticipated events is the flowering of our lilacs in the front yard. Who planted them, and how long ago, I don¹t know. But on a fine and calm spring evening, when the scent from those lilacs wafts around our yard and in through open windows, I wish that they would stay in bloom for the whole season. Who among us can resist the charm of lilacs? Their luscious blossoms, rich green foliage and heady scent have enchanted gardeners for hundreds of years. They are winter-hardy, forgiving of all but the most inhospitable of growing conditions, and come in forms to suit most every gardener¹s tastes. Now Canadian gardening writer Jennifer Bennett has given lilac enthusiasts a gift in her highly informative book. She writes with lyrical and articulate passion of this wonderful plant, and reading her book is like sitting down with her for tea and a confidential, joyful chat about this beloved plant. Bennett divides her book into six chapters, each covering particular aspects of Syringa, the lilac genus; lilac history, their growth requirements, their niche in our gardening landscapes. She profiles the development of the lilac from its arrival in North America--the lilac is not indigenous to this part of the world, but native to regions of eastern Europe and Asia--to the results of work done by breeders of the wonderful shrub. One of the finest lines of lilacs was developed by Isabella Preston (1881-1965), a horticulturalist who worked at the Central Experimental farm in Ottawa during a time when women were not often employed in the sciences. Preston's hybrid line of lilacs, Syringa x prestoniae, are tall, disease-resistant and very winter hardy specimens which are still considered some of the finest lilacs on the market.

No matter where you garden, whether on a rambling rural property or in a suburban lot, there is a lilac suited to your growing conditions. Two chapters are devoted to species and cultivars of lilacs, common and rare, with descriptive listings of dozen of different varieties. Of particular value is the chapter focusing on 'Lilac Aid, or Why won¹t it bloom?' Here you will find information on the pests and diseases of lilacs, and what to do about them. In many cases, simply relocating or pruning the plant will improve its growth and flowering. As with most gardening books, the photographs in Lilacs for the Garden are most eloquent in giving us a look at the brightest and best of lilacs, new and old. Full page colour closeups of one or two blossoms of a particular specimen tempt the reader to sniff for fragrance, and send us to check our garden budgets to see if we can put in one or two of these scented lovelies.

In case we are besotted with a particular lilac, Bennett also offers a well-researched source list of mail-order and pick-up nurseries, public lilac gardens, and information websites. 'Plant a lilac, and you plant a memory,' Bennett writes. May there be many such memories planted by those who read this lovely book.


Author : Jennifer Bennett
ISBN : 1552975622
Publisher : Firefly Books
Sugg. Retail Price : $19.95
Available in Softcover
Number of Pages : 128

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