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~ The French Lilac, Syringa vulgaris ~

The term "French Lilac" is used to designate cultivars of the species Syringa vulgaris. Did you know that the largest collection of lilacs in the world can be found in our very own Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton, Ontario? Did you know that the floral clusters are referred to as "thyrsi?"

Lilacs are very undemanding, and generally pest-free. They sometimes develop powdery mildew at the end of the summer, and a humid spring may render the trees vulnerable to lilac blight, a disease that causes branch die back.

When choosing a lilac, there are several elements that should be considered beyond the beauty of the flowers. The ideal lilac has the following qualities:

1. Abundant bloom.
2. Blooms occur on lower branches, not just top.
3. Perfume - not every cultivar is created equal in this respect.
4. Suckering - too much is undesirable.
5. Blooms held above new foliage, not partially hidded by it.
6. Large thyrsi.
7. Color holds, minimal fading.

These qualities, or lack thereof, are not obvious when selecting a lilac at the nursery.

If you really wish to become an expert on nearly all the lilac cultivars ever bred, consider reading Father Fiala's monumental book, Lilacs: The Genus Syringa. The book is very complete, with a great number of photographs, a chapter on pests and diseases, lilac breeding, etc., with the author's love of lilacs coming through every word.

Recommended cultivars

Slater's Elegance features pure white florets with gigantic petals, looking almost like a hydrangea.
Primrose is a very leafy shrub, producing small, yellowish thyrsi that are best seen next to a pure white variety.
Avalanche is covered with fluffy white thyrsi, from top to bottom.
Rochester, slow-growing and difficult to propagate, is a rarity, notable for flat, daisy-like multipetaled florets.
Krasavitsa Moskvy has large, rounded pink buds that open to fully double white blooms.

Maiden's Blush not only tops the list for pink lilacs, but it may very well be the best all-around lilac. Its fragrance is quite noticeably stronger than all others, and the bush is completely covered in blooms from the tip to the ground, every year.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, a descendent of the ground-breaking white Rochester, is also multipetaled.

Eleanore Berdeen's silvery florests have heavily recurved petals, for a very frilly, unique effect - difficult to find.
Dappled Dawn's yellow-speckled foliages showcases thyrsi of double, mauve florets.

Deep Purple
Agincourt Beauty's huge florets look like grapes and are held above the foliage.
Andeken van Ludwig Spaeth is an older cultivar, and grows into a very large, tall, floriferous shrub.

Lilac Links

Lilac Festival - A yearly event held in Rochester, New York.
Royal Botanical Gardens - The world's largest collection of lilacs.
International Lilac Society - Dedicated to promote and stimulate interest in the genus Syringa.
Select Plus Lilac Nursery - Offers a very large variety of hard-to-find lilacs.
Frank Moro's Growing Tips - Simply, the best!

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