Long-time readers may have been able to deduce my bias to featuring the plants of my mother’s garden of my youth: irises, larkspurs, and lady’s-slippers. One notable omission, though, has been lilacs. These featured prominently in our Canadian prairie farmyard, as both a hedge alongside the road and a few plantings in the garden.
The main reason for the lack of lilac entries is plants often perform poorly locally. There are few to be found in cultivation and in local botanical gardens. No lilacs, no photographs. However, a couple years ago on a trip back from Portland, Oregon, I finally stepped into the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, Washington. There, I had a chance to prompt some memories while photographing their diverse collection of nearly one hundred lilac cultivars. Hulda Klager was a prominent lilac breeder, hybridizing over a hundred new cultivars in her lifetime. For a few more photographs of the garden and its lilacs, you can read Forrest Campbell’s article Hulda Klager Lilac Garden via Pacific Horticulture magazine.
I can guarantee that Syringa × hyacinthiflora ‘Dark Night’ was not a lilac cultivar that we grew in our cold-wintered continental climate yard. Most lilacs require hours of winter chill for buds to mature (and thereby flower profusely). ‘Dark Night’ lilac is one of a number of cultivars bred specifically for milder climates through southern California’s Rancho del Descanso (better known these days as Descanso Gardens). This breeding program started in the mid-20th-century under Walter Lammerts and continued under John Sobeck; over a dozen superior cultivars for mild climates have been introduced, collectively known as the Descanso Hybrids. You can read more about ‘Dark Night’ lilac in a gardening situation courtesy of Paghat: Syringa × hyacinthiflora ‘Dark Night’.
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.