Monthly Archives: May 2011

The most highly scented lilacs

Surely at the top of the list of shrubs to grow for creating the framework of an intimate garden or garden room are lilacs, in particular Syringa vulgaris and their French hybrids. Syringa vulgaris are grown for their exquisite beauty in both form and color of blossoms, although it is their fragrance flung far and throughout gardens and neighborhoods that make them so unforgettable.

Not all species of Syringa and cultivars of Syringa vulgaris are scented. The early French hybrids and hybrids of Leonid Kolesnikov have retained their fragrance. Syringa oblata has a similar fragrance, though is not nearly as potent. Several of the Chinese species have a spicy cinnamon scent, while many of the Asian species and their hybrids have very little, if any, fragrance. To find your personal preference, I suggest a visit to a local arboretum, or take your nose to the nursery during the extended period of time (six to eight weeks, or so) in which the different cultivars of S. vulgaris are in bloom.

‘Monge’ Lemoine in the foreground

Nearly everywhere lilacs are grown (and here I am only referring to S. vulgaris), they are called by some variety of the word lilac. Perhaps the word lilac stems from the Persian word Lilak or Lilaf meaning bluish. The French say Lilas, the Spanish say Lila, and the Portuguese Lilaz. In old English lilacs were called Laylock, Lilack, and Lilock.

Lilacs are native to and found growing among the limestone rocks on the hillsides and mountainsides throughout southeastern Europe, in the Balkans, Moldavia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia. Cultivated by local mountain herdsmen, they were taken from the peasant villages of central Europe to the garden courts of Istanbul. In 1563, the Flemish scholar and traveler Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, Ambassador of Ferdinand I of Austria to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, brought back to Vienna gifts from the sultan’s garden. Attracting much attention was the lilac. Seven years later, in 1570, Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, and then Curator of the Imperial Court Library, accompanied the Archduchess Elizabeth from Vienna to Paris where she was betrothed to King Charles IX of France. Count de Busbecq journeyed to France with a shoot of Syringa vulgaris, where it soon began to fill the gardens of Paris.

Two color variants sprang up in European gardens beside the wild blue- flowered lilac, a nearly white flowered variant with lighter foliage and a taller- growing variant with deeper purple flowers. Hybridizers quickly set about to create different forms and color versions from these two variants.

Victor Lemoine of the famed nursery Victor Lemoine et Fils at Nancy in Lorraine Province continued the work of hybridizing lilacs. From 1878 to 1950, Victor and his wife, their son Emile, and their grandson, Henri, created 214 lilac cultivars. The cornerstone of the Lemoine’s lilac hybridizing program was a nat- ural sport that bore two corollas, one inside the other, making it the first dou- ble. This double was subsequently named ‘Azurea Plena.’ Because of the Lemoine family’s success in turning ordinary lilacs into fancy double-flowered lilacs in nearly every hue imaginable, they became known as the “French lilacs.” Spreading throughout Europe, the French lilacs were brought to the Russian court by French travelers. Well suited to the soil and climate of Russia, they soon spread far and wide. Several decades later, the Russian hybridist Leonid Kolesnikov continued the successful work of the Lemoines with his own exquisite variants.

‘Beauty of Moscow'  ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ translated to ‘Beauty of Moscow’ Leonid Alexseevitch Kolesnikov Hybrid

The French and Dutch colonists transported lilacs to North America. These cherished cuttings, wrapped in burlap and wet straw tucked into suitcases for the long journey across the Atlantic, traveled well and were soon growing throughout the colonies. By 1753 the Quaker botanist John Bartram of Philadelphia was complaining that lilacs were already too numerous. One of two of the oldest col- lections of lilacs in North America are at the Governor Wentworth home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted by the governor in 1750. The second collection, perhaps one hundred years older, is at Mackinac Island in Michigan, where French Jesuit missionaries living in the area are thought to have planted them as early as 1650.

With their traveling fragrance, versatility in the landscape, and their ability to live tens, perhaps even hundreds of years, lilacs are garden heirlooms. When selecting lilacs to grow for creating the framework of the garden, take the time to choose wisely. Some lilacs grow readily into a tree shape (‘Beauty of Moscow’), while others are somewhat relatively lower growing cultivars; ‘Wedgwood Blue’ comes to mind, and still others, the common white lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba), sucker more freely. And bear in mind that different lilacs bloom over an extended period of time. If you wish to have a blue lilac blooming simultaneously with a white lilac, then it is worthwhile to determine whether a specific cultivar is an early, mid, or late season bloomer. The following is a selection of lilacs growing in our garden, arranged in their sequential progression of flowering, with considerable overlapping. They are all highly scented or we wouldn’t grow them. The last photo below shows the different colors in lilac blossoms of white, pink, blue, lavender, magenta.

Maiden's BlushSyringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’

S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (1966) Skinner ~ Single, pale rose pink; shows different colors of pink under different soil conditions. In a warmer climate and lighter soils it is a paler shade of pink, in heavier soils ‘Maiden’s Blush’ has more lavender undertones.

‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ translated to ‘Beauty of Moscow.’ Leonid Alexseevitch Kolesnikov (1974) ~ Double, lavender-rose tinted buds opening to white-tinted pink. Grown throughout Russia. Vigorous upright habit, useful for growing into a tree-shape. Very extended blooming period.

Syringa vulgaris var. purpurea. Common purple lilac ~ Lavender, the wild species seen growing throughout its native land. The common purple is the most widely distributed form of lilac. The lilac of old gardens.

‘Wedgwood Blue’ John Fiala (1981) ~ Hanging panicles of beautiful true blue florets. Lilac-pink hued buds. Somewhat lower growing.

‘Madame Florent Stepman’ (1908) ~ Satiny ivory white florets from rose- washed buds. Pure white when fully opened. Tall and upright growing. One of the most extensively cultivated for the florist trade.

‘President Grevy’ Lemoine (1886) ~ Pure blue, immense panicles of sweet starry florets.

‘Marie Legraye’ (1840) ~ Single, diminutive florets, radiant white, lighter green foliage.

‘Monge’ Lemoine (1913) ~ Vivid, intense plum wine fading to deepest rose.

‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ Nursery of Ludwig Spaeth (1883) ~ Single, rich purple-violet with a smaller pointed-head panicle.

Lilac bouquetClockwise from upper right: Pale pink ‘Maiden’s Blush,’ common white, double-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ ‘Monge,’ common white, ‘President Grevy’ (blue), and common purple.

Above excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine, Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.

More on Lilac Culture in the next post.

Wedgwood Blue Lilac

Syringa vulgaris 'Wedgwood'Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgwood’

Lilacs,

False blue

White

Purple,

Colour of lilac.

Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,

Roots of lilac under all the soilof New England,

Lilacs in me because I am NewEngland,

Because my roots are in it,

Because my leaves are of it,

Because my flowers are for it,

Because it is my country

And I speak to it of itself

And sing of it with my own voice

Since certainly it is mine.

—from Lilacs by Amy Lowell (1874–1925)


C’est la Vie! at Willowdale Estate

Congratulations North Shore Garden Club and Willowdale Estate for a fabulously successful show! 

C'est la Vie! at Willowdale Estate

A wonderful time was had by all and Willowdale looked gorgeous. The expert hands of seasoned event organizers Helen Glaenzer (North Shore Garden Club president) and NSGC event co-chairs Susan Barry, Didi Blau, and Cathy Ebling were in evidence throughout with their beautiful design touches and thoughtfully presented exhibits.

C'est la Vie! at Willowdale EstateBest in Show ~ created by Cathy and Helen 

Many thanks to the staff at Willowdale–Emily, Lenna, Chef Joe, Dale, Sarah, Greg, and James– to name only a few of the hardworking crew that makes Willowdale sing. The new conservatory is exquisite and will allow Willowdale to host larger events throughout the four seasons. Stunning light was cast from the conservatory skylight, illuminating the exhibits beautifully.

C'est la Vie! at Willowdale Estate 'Best in Show'“I Love Paris in the Springtime” ~ The Eiffel Tower wrapped in a swirl of Gloriosa lily ‘Fireworks’

Willowdale Estate North Shore Garden Club C'est la Vie

Willowdale Estate North Shore Garden Club C'est la Vie

Willowdale Estate North Shore Garden Club C'est la VieWillowdale Estate North Shore Garden Club C'est la Vie

Willowdale Estate North Shore Garden Club C'est la Vie

C’est la Vie!

Dear Gardening Friends, Think Spring! Come join the North Shore Garden Club for what promises to be a wonderful event. I will be there and available to answer questions about the butterfly garden. Hope to see you there! Warmest wishes, Kim

C'est la Vie North Shore Garden Club

The North Shore Garden Club is hosting a beautiful exhibition of all things flowers, which will be held at historic Willowdale Estate in Topsfield, Massachusetts. The grounds are open to the public and the event includes classes in flower arranging, photography, and horticulture, and all is free.
The North Shore Garden Club (established in 1915) is a member of the Garden Club of America and was created for the purpose of stimulating interest in all aspects of gardening as well as to support civic beauty and conservation of natural resources.
Of note at Willowdale this past week…
Tulipomania at WillowdaleTulipomania at Willowdale
A sea of fabulously fragrant narcissus Fujifilm x100An intoxicatingly fragrant sea of narcissus
Magnolia virginiana bud Fujifilm x100Magnolia virginiana bud

Cape Ann TV Barry O’Brien Special Presentation

Join Cape Ann TV for their annual meeting Tuesday, May 24 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Sawyer Free Library Friend Room. 

A Special Presentation, “Public Access and Democracy: From the Boob Tube to YouTube, A Revolution in Our Time,” gives a glimpse at the evolution of public access television, a form of mass media where ordinary people can create content cablecast through their local cable system.

I am looking forward to attending the Cape Ann TV’s annual meeting and especially looking forward to Barry O’Brien’s (founder of North Shore Communications Group) special presentation. I attended Barry’s lighting workshop last week and it was so worthwhile!! After the workshop he took the time to teach me several sound editing techniques in Soundtrack Pro. Many, many thanks to Barry for his professional advice and generosity!

This week Allen Estes Local Music Seen features Jake Pardee. The shows are taped before a live studio audience and air Wednesday, 5/13 at 6:30pm, Friday 5/20 at 1:30pm, and Sunday 5/22 at 6pm.



Native Flowering Dogwood

Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American dogwood (Cornus florida)? Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood never ceases to give pause for beauty given.

Cornus florida var. rubra

Cornus florida bw Fujifilm x100Cornus florida

At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood, dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of neighboring tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.

Cornus florida rubra-1 Fujifilm x100

Cornus florida rubra-3 Fujifilm x100

Discouragingly, many dogwoods in our region are inflicted with the lethal dogwood anthracnose. I believe the problem is exacerbated by the vast majority of information regarding growing flowering dogwoods, which suggests planting in part shade, and does not differentiate between gardening in the north versus gardening in the Midwest or northern Florida for that matter. If one lives in warmer regions south of New England, yes, perhaps it is possible to grow a healthy C. florida in partial shade.

Dogwood anthracnose is caused by the aptly named fungus Discula destructiva. It will typically kill an untreated Cornus florida within two to three years. As we look to nature for an answer, the native flowering dogwoods growing in the fertile, moist, friable soil of the Northeastern woodlands, as understory trees, are the trees most affected by anthracnose. Cornus florida growing in an open, sunny location are far less afflicted. What we learn from this lesson is to choose a location that has good air circulation and full sun. What we know is that Discula destructiva requires high humidity for infection; therefore trees planted in mesic sites in the shade are more susceptible than trees growing in xeric sites.

Discula destructiva is a soil born disease. Dogwood trees inflicted with anthracnose will begin to show signs of infection by dying from the bottom up. The lower branches will become twiggy and will not flower or leaf-out. This is the opposite of what you may see if a tree is losing foliage along the upper branches because of drought stress, for example.  A tree that is stressed from lack of water or nutrients will, generally speaking, begin to show signs of trouble from the top down.Cornus florida var. rubra -4 Fujifilm x100

Our lovely Cornus florida var. rubra (my second go around with this species; the first was killed by anthracnose) shows signs of drought stress every year, usually during the dog days of late summer. I place the hose at the base of the tree, allowing water to gently flow overnight (never wet the foliage of a dogwood). Visibly, the tree will perk up. Typically this will need to be done every few days, until the next soaking rain. Any tree that is stressed from lack of water is more susceptible to disease. Along with monitoring our tree for drought stress, and because we plant densely beneath the tree’s boughs, I have found these measures, thus far, have served to prevent an outbreak of anthracnose.

Note how beautifully grows this dogwood. Despite the rain-soaked droopy bracts, you can see its gorgeous overall form. The level branches grow horizontally and there are no bald, twiggy areas.

Cornus florida var. rubra -5 Fujifilm x100Cornus florida var. rubra Lynn Fells Parkway, Melrose, Massachusetts

bract – In botany, a bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.

Cornus florida var. rubra -4 Fujifilm x100The open florets (pea-green colored) and unopened buds are surrounded by the rose red-shaded bracts.