Country MagazineI think it all started when I was staying at my mom’s house in North Carolina. A tiny white lilac shrub bloomed along the grassy space separating Mom’s driveway from her neighbor’s. I remember seeing that shrub and realizing just how long it had been since I last saw one. I walked over to it and breathed deeply. A hidden longing came over me.
As a youngster growing up in New York, I knew two lilacs. One grew right outside our house; it was a mixture of purple and white branches. I’m told Dad had planted one of each, and they had grown intertwined over the years. The other was more maroon-colored, growing next to an old house that was falling down beside the barn where we milked cows.
Isn’t it funny how we can latch onto something, and then it takes on a new importance in our minds? That’s what happened with the lilacs and me. That little shrub at Mom’s made me long for my own lilacs.
A few years later, I decided to leave North Carolina and move back to my childhood home in New York. After I was settled, I discovered a lilac farm a couple hours away and came home armed with four new small shrubs, a complimentary bag of fertilizer that lilacs especially like, and instructions from the grower to cut mine back by one-third of their size every year if I wanted glorious shrubs like those on his farm.
He acknowledged that most people can’t seem to do that, and he was right. I can’t bring myself to cut mine back, though I do manage to keep deadwood trimmed off and to fertilize twice a year.
Since I chose to move away from warmer climates, I really try not to complain about the winter. I know it has to be like this, but I can hardly wait for the bare winter branches to be replaced by the first blooms.
When winter is at its worst, I try to remember what it’s like when it’s warm enough to open the windows, and the spring breeze carries the lilac scent in.
Or to be mowing some distance away and suddenly have that lilac scent waft over to me. The feeling is so powerful that I don’t want to be any place other than right there. It’s one of the things that keeps me here for the winter. I don’t want to miss spring and the lilacs.
I know some people find lilacs to be disappointing, since they bloom for such a short time—or not at all, if we have a late frost. I disagree. They’re part of who I am, and I need them each year. I understood that once I was really home.