Mention old-fashioned lilacs and most people think of Grandma, or her garden, or both.
Not me. Lilacs remind me of Boog Powell.
Before he did beer commercials, Boog played for the Orioles. As a kid, I worshiped Boog. We were both, um, heavyset. We both tried to play first base. And we both struck out a lot.
I followed Boog's games on radio. Many a lazy May weekend I spent curled up in a hammock, with my transistor, in the shade of a large purple lilac bush in the back yard.
Whenever Boog got a base hit, I'd whoop it up. Then I'd grab a lilac bloom, take a deep breath and sink back in my hammock, happy with life.
(The lilacs helped me through my hero's slumps as well. Fortunately, when the Booger smelled, so did my flowers.)
Powell has long since retired, and the grand old lilac of my youth is gone. But I wax nostalgic each spring when our two new lilacs burst into blooms of purple and white beneath our bedroom windows.
These old-fashioned plants are tailored for reminiscing, say lilac enthusiasts.
"Lilacs bring back memories. They are the shrubs your grandmother grew by her back door. There is no other plant that people so associate with the gentler times of their childhood," says Walter Oakes, spokesman for the International Lilac Society.
"Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can't go home again. But lilacs allow you to go home in your mind."
Moreover, they are easy to grow. Oakes tends 180 types of lilacs, in shades of white, blue, pink and purple, at his home in Rumford, Maine. For six weeks each spring, their sweet scent pervades his second-floor bedroom.
Lilacs require full sun and thrive in fertile, neutral, well-drained soil. Though generally considered a Northern plant -- most lilacs need a period of dormancy in winter to produce blooms -- new varieties have been bred to flower as far south as Alabama. Called hyacinthifloras, these shrubs will even thrive in parts of Hawaii.
Before purchasing lilacs, Oakes suggests flower fans browse public gardens in their area to help them choose their favorite colors and make the best selections. Reputable mail-order nurseries that specialize in lilacs include: Wedge Nursery (Route 2, Box 114, Albert Lea, Minn. 56007) and Heard Gardens (5355 Merle Hay Road, Johnston, Iowa 50131).
Of Chinese descent, lilacs were cherished by American colonists, and enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity 80 years ago.
Interest in lilacs has never waned in towns like Lisbon, N.H., and Lombard, Ill.
"You can't live in Lisbon unless you grow lilacs," says resident RTC Marion Callender.
Nestled in the White Mountains, in the heart of wild lilac country, Lisbon (population 1,500) holds a rousing three-day lilac festival in Lilac Park in the town square each Memorial Day weekend. That's when townsfolk eat pancakes, crown Miss Lilac and fasten a lilac flower to the antenna of the village police cruiser.
L And what if Lisbon's lilacs refuse to bloom on Memorial Day?
"Well, we don't allow that," says Callender.
In Lombard, visitors pour into Lilacia Park, an eight-acre area of 1,200 lilacs, for nine days of lilac-related activities in mid-May. There's a Lilac Walk, a Lilac Parade and a Lilac Ball. There's even a lilac sale. For more information, call Lombard's Lilac Parade Line, (708) 629-3799.
Lilacia Park is heaven at sunset, says horticulturist Brian Mueller: "On a calm night, the fragrance will knock your socks off."
In Boston, "Lilac Sunday" has drawn 10,000 people to Arnold Arboretum, where medieval-style troubadours stroll among 600 lilacs, entertaining picnickers who feast on sausages and ice cream.
Meanwhile, Rochester, N.Y., is gearing up for a 10-day lilac festival this year, the 100th anniversary of the first lilac planting in its city park. That was 1,200 lilacs ago.
Festivities include a parade, a race (the Lilac 10-K) and a bowling tournament. Visitors can buy lilac perfume, posters and T-shirts. They can even shake hands with Lila the Skunk, a 6-foot creature who roams the park dressed in a costume of purple and white.
C7 Me, I'm holding out for Boog Powell.End of realdirt