What in the hedge is a lilac?
Lilacs the genus Syringa are beautiful bushes with purple (lilac is also a shade of purple, you know) or white flowers and slightly elongated, heart-shaped leaves of green or blue-green color. If maintained well, lilacs will form thick hedges with clusters of small flowers with a wonderful scent. If left to its destiny, they will grow stems up to 12 centimeters (7 inches) in diameter with flowers only at the top, if at all, and bluish leaves.

A word of slight caution
Once you have lilacs in your garden, they are there to stay. Nothing stands a beating and a bruising or two like the lilac. In fact, it loves it when you get rough. Pruning your lilacs is very important, and is hard to overdo. The worst thing that can happen here is that you get no flowers for a year or two, but they will be back.

Before introducing lilacs to your garden, consider your water resources. Lilacs require vast amounts of water (although they do dislike soggy soil). If your water comes from a well on your own properties, you may find that you are forced to use less water for your household to prevent the well from going dry, even if you do not give extra water to your lilacs, and if the climate is hot and dry, you will need to do so (and use mulch), so consider your water bill and available resources.

Prevent them from taking over your garden
Lilacs will create vast root systems underground, so you should expect new bushes to pop up anywhere within 15 meters (50 feet) from the actual hedge. The lilac behaves like a weed, and where you do not like it, you should treat it as such. Fight intruders on your lawn with much vigilance. You may also want to establish a line past which you do not want the lilacs to march, and mark this with a line of rocks, railroad cross-ties or similar to prevent your hedge from sneaking up on you.

Also, to prevent this behavior to some degree, prune the blooms as described below. This will also stimulate the lilac to produce more flowers.

Once established, lilacs generally do not require fertilizer. They handle themselves very well anyway, sometimes almost a little too well.

If fertilizer is needed, use one with a low level of nitrogen (the first number in a fertilizer's three-number composition rating). Too much nitrogen will impair blooming. Also, making sure that the second number in the fertilizer's rating is at least twice as great as the first is important for the same reason. Apply the fertilizer to the base of the plant in late winter/early spring. Come summer, you should see the result in the foliage, and the flowers the summer following that, as the buds are set one year in advance.

Rejuvenating old lilacs
If your lilacs look more like half-dead trees than energetic bushes, wait until late winter (when you can be pretty sure the temperature will not drop too far below the freezing point), and bring out the hedge-cutters and the saw. Cut all thicker stems down to about 30 centimeters (a foot), and save a few thinner ones to start the photosynthesis. Do not expect flowers for at least one and a half year, possibly up to three and a half. The lilacs will rejuvenate and come back with more thin stems and greener leaves, forming a thick hedge.

Cut off blooms as soon as they have faded, which will usually be between the end of May and the beginning of July in the northern hemisphere, depending on climate and lilac species. This will stimulate blooming and prevent garden takeover.

For a dense hedge with many stems, make it a practice to prune stems thicker than 3.5 centimeters (1.5 inch) in diameter in late winter to about 30 centimeters (a foot) above ground. This will impair your lilacs potential of carrying flowers slightly, but will keep the hedge green and dense.

The same technique can also be used for medium-sized rejuvenation processes. If flowers are more important than foliage to you, do not prune as described above for a few years (but do prune faded blooms), and when needed, take one third of all thicker stems each year for three years, and watch your lilacs thrive.

Remember that cutting below the second level of leaves will make that stem unable to carry flowers for a year or two to come, and anything beyond pruning faded blooms within a week will decrease blooming.

Enjoying your lilacs
Each species of lilacs has a different scent (all of them pleasant), and it can be enjoyed purely for this reason. Sacrificing flowers and keeping the stems young and dense, the lilac can even be cut to slightly less natural shapes such as box-like hedges. The bushes make excellent hedges, instead of fences or walls for maximum privacy and contribution to the feeling of the garden as a green room.

Kudos to BlueDragon, anthropod and C-Dawg for comments and pointers.

Space Cadet Lilac is in orbit around the handball backboard. He sails smoothly around the corner, letting gravity sling him around one hundred eighty degrees, until he is on course for the gap between the basketball hoops. His wheels sing in harmony with the asphalt, and Lilac passes through the gap, his fingers trailing across the smooth metal surface of both pillars as he exits.

Lilac wants to be a meteor when he grows up.

He passes through the rows of picnic tables, and again lets gravity swing him back into orbit, on trajectory for the backboard. Geometric designs fly past his feet, circles and lines and angles, and Lilac again reaches perihelion, rotating around the backboard.

The ground here is well paved, and Lilac's wheels find no pothole or divot as he enters the space between the basketball hoops. He lets inertia carry him in the path fate has provided him, and the picnic tables are approaching.

Lycano-Alex is sitting on a picnic table, staring at the ugly children on the wall. Lilac wonders who would paint such ugly children on a wall. The ugly children leer at him as he passes. He lowers his foot to the ground, feels pavement, and pushes. He raises his foot in the air again, then down, and pushes. He plants his feet firmly on the deck, and feels the rush of being propelled by momentum as he again approaches the backboard.

Space Cadet Lilac suspends orbital operations by the picnic tables and stops for a cigarette. He breathes the tobacco fumes in deep, then releases them into the atmosphere. Lycano-Alex is still staring at the ugly children.

"Why," asks Lilac, "Would they paint such fucking ugly children on that wall? Are those children really that ugly?"

Lycano-Alex replies, "Yeah, I think they really are that ugly. We should go to the swings."

Lilac and Lycano-Alex are walking now, walking on a smoothly paved path under the stars. The summer air is warm and thick and inviting, the grass is very green and the lights are very well lit. For a minute, Lilac thinks he is home, he thinks he is at the park next to his parents house, but then he realizes that there is no way he had traveled 500 miles in the past hour.

"I just lived the life of a meteor," says Lilac, "And I think I want to be a meteor when I grow up."

Space Cadet Lilac and Lycano-Alex are swinging now, reaching up towards the stars at the apex of every cycle. Lilac is half convinced that if he were to simply let go, the heavens would reach out and catch him, and he would be among the stars, like a meteor. His legs swing earnestly in the thick air, propelling him up, forward, and away, until he again hurtles back towards the ground, held hostage by Earth's gravity. The fireworks in the sky are brighter than the Fourth of July. If Lilac can only get a little more momentum, he might be able to reach escape velocity and go hurtling into outer space.

Lilac realizes he has ran out of a critical supply, and decides he needs orange juice to complete his mission. Lilac and Lycano-Alex are lost, lost in the deep dark woods, with paths branching out as far as the eye can see.

"Are we lost?" asks Lilac.

"No, not entirely," says Lycano-Alex, "We just don't know where we are."

Lycano-Alex picks a path through the deep dark woods, and follows it, until he and Lilac come to a quiet, tree lined street. They walk through suburbia for centuries, and see a street they recognize. Lilac sees one of the supply depots the humans use to fuel their crude combustion-based land craft, and bravely volunteers to venture inside for orange juice.

He is dazzled by the lights and the rows upon rows of bottles. One of these bottles must contain orange juice, he reasons. Lilac is overwhelmed, and the people next to him are speaking Russian. Lilac feels very much a fish out of water. He begins systematically inspecting the rows upon rows of soda, the rows of milk, the rows of beer, and he finds a bottle labeled "Tropicana".

Fuel, he thinks, and he heads towards the counter.

He swipes his magic card of booze, cigarettes, and consumer debt through the machine, and then attempts to sign. His signature resembles the Andromeda galaxy more than any specific collection of letters. He exits the fueling depot to find Lycano-Alex conversing with one of the humans over a cigarette. Lilac has met this human before. He greets Uberglen.

Uberglen offers Lilac a cigarette, and Lilac accepts. Lilac thumbs the lighter, releasing fire into the air and enabling combustion of the sweet sweet nicotine that Lilac so desperately needs. Uberglen is amused, and tells them he has seen people like them in the movies. Lycano-Alex and Lilac consume the orange juice quickly, and realize that their mission may require more. Lycano-Alex hands Lilac a piece of the paper the humans use as currency, and Lilac returns to the fueling depot. Lilac is Little Red Riding Hood on the way to grandma's house, and he clutches the money tightly. He buys two more bottles of orange juice, and a pack of Camels. Lilac returns to Lycano-Alex, who is bidding Uberglen farewell.

The two travelers find a bench on the bike path and sit on it, puffing away. Lilac hears something rattling behind him, and turns to find a ten foot long sheet of aluminum foil clattering away in the breeze. Lilac retrieves the foil, and quickly fashions a hat from it, as protection against Earthling mind control rays. He uses the excess for a scarf, just for good measure.

Lilac and Lycano-Alex are heading down the bike path now, towards the arboretum. Lycano-Alex most desperately wishes to talk to a cactus, and he has a good idea where to find one. Lycano-Alex notices the scarf, and accuses Lilac of being overly dramatic. Lilac disposes of the scarf, realizing that it may mark him as an outsider to the security forces of planet Earth as he walks down the street.

"You really should try talking to a cactus," says Lycano-Alex, "Not many people do, and cacti often have a lot to say."

Lilac and Lycano-Alex have now entered a storybook wonderland. There are bridges and trees and castles, a kitsch-free Disneyland under the stars. Lilac recites a Bible verse to himself, "Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God." Lilac is in his own beautiful make-believe world. The trees and the ducks and the smoothly paved path are all here, just for him. Lycano-Alex has both hands planted firmly on a redwood, and he is listening to what it has to say, nodding and speaking softly. Lilac has reached critical mass, he feels his soul detaching, he feels he can now float.

He drops his wheels to the ground, plants his feet, and pushes off, curving around corners and finally swooping into a tunnel. His arms outstretched, he zooms through shadows thrown by row upon row of incandescent lights, crossing and recrossing the dotted yellow line, and he lets momentum carry him downhill, until he feels he is traveling far too fast but he lets himself keep going, because the path here is well paved. He fears no pothole or divot. He bows his head, and feels the wind rush through his hair, and suddenly he is slowing down. He lowers his arms, and hears his wheels roll over a crack in the pavement and then stop, gently, and he places his feet back on solid ground. A well paved path, made from the smoothest asphalt.

Lilac thinks about calling Autumn, but decides not to. Save the daylight for tomorrow, he tells himself. If it's a good idea now, it will still be a good idea then. And besides, he says quietly to himself, I am busy being more free then I ever have been. A duck floats by in the creek, and Lilac seats himself to smoke a cigarette, to pass the time as he waits for Lycano-Alex to catch up. Lycano-Alex lacks the benefit of a rapid transit device like Lilac's, and he is constrained to using his feet. He reaches Lilac far sooner than Lilac is expecting.

Lilac and Lycano-Alex are standing next to a giant barbecue, and they are not entirely sure where they are. There are dark woods all around them, a pond in front of them, a smoothly paved path beneath them, and they are standing next to a giant barbecue. Lilac suggests that they must still be on University land, because a path this well paved is not cheap to maintain. Lilac knows these things, the city paths have potholes and divots and Lilac has gained firsthand knowledge of the danger that comes with poorly paved paths on previous journeys to planet Earth, and has the scars to prove it. This path is very well paved.

Lilac, for the first time, does not know where he is or where he is going, or anything but the presence of a very large barbecue and a very nice path, and for the first time, he is okay with this. Lilac will not be calling Mission Control for new orders, Lilac will not stress about what happens when the Earth finishes its next rotation. Lilac has built himself a watertight ship, and has freed himself from his recent poverty of spirit. Liberation theology. Lilac will save the daylight for tomorrow. He permits himself another cigarette.

Lycano-Alex and Lilac are sitting on a bench now.

Lycano-Alex remarks, "I think the woods intend to retake this bench."

Lilac leans back into the bench, and feels the woods encroaching, feels the branches creeping all around him, feels the life around him attempting to become one with him. Lilac feels he is about to burst into bloom. The stars are exploding in front of him, the ducks are playing in the Technicolor water, and Lilac is about to burst into bloom.

"Is this not the most amazing place you have ever seen?" asks Lycano-Alex.

Lilac is in a sea of purple.

"Lilac," says Lilac, "These flowers are called lilacs. Say it, lilac. The word just kind of sticks in your mouth. Lilac."

"Okay," Lycano-Alex says, "Lilac. Lilac lilac lilac."

Lilac finishes his bottle of orange juice.

"I think," says Lilac, "When I grow up, I want to be happy."

A duck splashes in the moonlit water, and Lycano-Alex hands Space Cadet Lilac another cigarette.

Li"lac (?), n. [Also lilach.] [Sp. lilac, lila, Ar.lilak, fr. Per. lilaj, lilanj, lilang, nilaj, nil, the indigo plant, or from the kindred lilak bluish, the flowers being named from the color. Cf. Anil.]

1. Bot.

A shrub of the genus Syringa. There are six species, natives of Europe and Asia. Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, and S. Persica, the Persian lilac, are frequently cultivated for the fragrance and beauty of their purplish or white flowers. In the British colonies various other shrubs have this name.


A light purplish color like that of the flower of the purplish lilac.

California lilac Bot., a low shrub with dense clusters of purplish flowers (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus).


© Webster 1913.

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