Lilacs are old fashioned favorites, tested by time and warmly remembered for their legendary fragrance. The most common type is Syringa vulgaris and its’ varieties number in the hundreds. Color range is broad, from white to pinks, to reddish purples, blues to lavender and purples. All the above in light and darker tones. The individual flowers can be single or double. There are two distinct cvs., immediately recognizable by their flowers. ‘Primrose’ is yellow and ‘Sensation’ is dark purple with a fine edging of white on each individual bloom. These are easy care plants and they can live a very long time. A sunny site is recommended and neutral to slightly alkaline soils are preferred, but they will also grow in slightly acid soils. They appreciate a sunny site to promote the heaviest flowering. Culture is easy, simply water when needed, plant in well drained soil, and trim off faded blooms. Additionally, you can thin excess stems if they appear too crowded or you want to rejuvenate a tired older plant. (cut out the very old stems over a period of years and the plant will renew itself with new, young branching from the base.) Regular watering is appreciated as well and they are reasonably drought tolerant also when very well established.
Besides the common lilac and its’ numerous cvs., there are other species/types which give the enthusiast much choice. There are small leafed and flowered species and hybrids. There are cut leaf forms, and a variegated form. And there are tree sized species which have very shiny polished bronze bark similar to cherry trees.
The small leafed forms and species are very garden worthy. They have a finer texture and blossom earlier than the common lilac. Syringa laciniata is the cutleaf lilac, with lavender purple clusters at the ends of branches. On a vigorous branch, numerous clusters form and give the impression of a blossom up to 8-10″ in length. S. chinensis is a hybrid from France (not of Chinese origin) and offers deep purple flowers in small clusters. The habit is bushy to perhaps 8 ft+ . S. persica is similar. The hybrids in this group are nice garden accents for the landscape. Easy care, and fragrant in bloom. Purples, lavenders, whites, pinks are available. S. meyeri, S. patula, S. patula ‘Miss Kim’, S. ‘Karen’ all offer nice blooms and there are more from which to choose.
There is a pendulous/weeping growing form called ‘Her’s Weeping’ with purple small clusters on a weeping plant. Quite different than other lilacs.
An unusual species is the nodding cluster species S. reflexa with drooping clusters of pink flowers. S. swegiflexa is a hybrid of this and offers various tones of reddish pinks on larger shrubs with a spicy fragrance. Growth is up to perhaps 12ft in time.
S. reticulata and S. pekinensis are tree form species and selections. White to creamy white blooms on a tree to 20+ ft with polished chestnut brown bark, similar to a cherry bark. Fragrant, though they are, the scent is not very pleasing to me….similar to privet.
S. villosa is similar in dimension to S. vulgaris but the blossoms tend to be narrower, giving the effect on the plant more of a candelabra effect. Many color cvs. are available if searched out.
When planting, allow for mature dimension of the plant and there will be no need to prune back if planted too close to anything else.
An alternative to lilacs are the summer blooming Buddleias, (butterfly bush, summer lilac). Here you will find gracefully arching plants that bloom a long time (most of them) and fountainous growth. They are of easy care and can be pruned back severely if they get too leggy or large. A wide color range from blues to purples(some very dark), reddish purple to pinks, and whites. There are two variegated cvs. and several new dwarf selections. Some species have yellow, golden flowers (B. globosa). I particularly enjoy B. lindleyana with its hanging lavender purple flower clusters all summer to frost. Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies love these plants. B. asiatica is winter blooming and white, scented of freesias. They are of easy culture, liking regular watering, reasonably rich soil, and a sunny position. If they grow too large, leggy, just cut them back down. If done in winter, they will bloom again later in summer! For those that want a longer bloom display, these are hard to beat.