April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.
T.S. Eliot

IMG_4189In many ways I think that lilacs (Syringa) define Santa Fe. When designing a garden, I try to subscribe to the mantra “Everyone needs at least one lilac.” Why? First of all, they come early. Not first, but while we are on what is sometimes a painful wait for nice weather and big flowers. When we are finally turning the corner from iffy weather to feeling like we might not regret leaving the house in sandals. When finally, we are comfortable enough outside to stop and smell the roses, I mean lilacs. Lilacs must have one of the prettiest and most consistent smells of all of the flowering shrubs, if not all flowers. If I could describe the smell in words, I would. If you have words for the smell of lilac on a warm summer day, please leave it in the comments. I will try: Sweet, intense, flowery..I’m not doing that well. Is this something that words can’t describe?

IMG_4173Also, the levels of purples and pinks that lilacs come in are truly their own pastel rainbow. Generally, they come in pinks, whites and purples. In Santa Fe, choose the common purple (syringa vulgaris) the dark purple (syringa “Ludwig Spaeth”), the white “French Sensation” or “Alba” or the every so exotic and pretty purple and white mix “Sensation”. Try to avoid both the Korean and Chinese varieties, while they can be very pretty, their leaves are prone to powdery mold later in the summer, even in our dry Santa Fe climate, and can end up making your garden very ugly in the later months of the summer.

This year, the lilacs are starting to peak now, May 4. There was a year, not so long ago, in 1993, when the lilacs signaled the start of my life. After a very, very, long cold winter in Santa Fe (both in weather and in my heart), spring finally showed and the lilacs came into bloom right around my college graduation celebrations, May 23. I remember walking the eastside neighborhood where I rented on Acequia Madre, (Prime, trendy, Santa Fe real estate.) I remember smelling the lilacs, enjoying the warm evenings, and feeling like my life wad finally happening. I still feel that when lilac season comes, even if it does vary from year to year. If I am lucky I find lilacs to pick for my house. I have several at my own house. This year I a grateful that they are here.  Some years the buds leaf out and freeze, like the fruit trees. After several years of this, I have come to realize that lilacs are a treat, not to be taken for granted, and not to be ignored when they come around.  If you can, stop and smell the next lilac that you have a chance to. Beauty in plants is not only on the surface of how the look, but how they feel and smell. These days I see lilacs at my home and at work, and while they don’t make me feel like I am 23 and on top of the world, I try to enjoy everything about them possible, and keep the thread connected to when they first won my heart. They still make me feel that the year actually starts with their blooms, not in January.

While I use lilacs as a barometer for my heart in some sense, my connection to the world, there are other things that blooming lilacs are known to mean.  Some say that an early lilac year means that the frosts of the winter have not been hard enough and that there will be upcoming pest problems. I hope not. For now let’s just enjoy their magnificence.IMG_4222