Why we’ll gather lilacs

Lilac time: The beautiful but short-lived  flowers of the lilac, but what you can't appreciate  in a picture is their scent.

Lilac time: The beautiful but short-lived flowers of the lilac, but what you can't appreciate in a picture is their scent.

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Lilac time is short-lived but spectacular. For a few weeks these beautiful little trees produce stunning flowers which scent the air. In fact, Syringa vulgaris is actually a member of the olive family and hails originally from the Balkans where it does best on dry, rocky sites.

It took a while for it to become a popular shrub/tree in the UK, but for a time the majority of gardens sported at least one variety.

They were particularly popular in Edwardian times and in towns and cities where pollution was a problem – lilacs laugh at such a thing.

But then, like many fashionable plants, the lilac fell from favour.

Now, however, it seems to be making a bit of a comeback.

Lilacs like a sunny spot; in shade they sulk and refuse to produce those lovely flowers, which can come in many colours from purple (often a light purple or lilac) to pure white, pale yellow and pink, and even a dark burgundy.

They seem able to tolerate most soils and are reasonably hardy, although a severe winter may set them back and, in extreme cases, prove fatal.

Look around and you should be able to see quite a few, mature lilacs which are well past their best-by date. With some, it’s best to dig them up and move on; with others, it’s possible to give them new life by pruning.

However, he technique requires plenty of patience – don’t hack unmercilessly and then expect to stand back to admire your handiwork.

To do the job right is a three-stage operation.

Take one-third of the bush back hard after flowering and then take the next third back in the following year – again after flowering.

Finish the final third in the next year. Then you can stand back – and wait.

The fourth year, the shrub may produce a flower or two, but it’s likely to be another 12 months after that before there are a serious number of blooms.

And it’s said that lilacs tend to flower well every second year, although many gardeners would argue that that’s not the case.

Suckers can sometimes be a problem – pull them off as soon as they appear; likewise, deadhead when the flowers start to turn brown.

A well-established lilac can easily grow to 30ft in height, but modern varieties are far more compact and accommodating for people who have only smaller gardens.

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