Lilacs and Cuckoos

The garden is starting to flaunt it.  So before I get carried away with early summer floriferation (yes, I may have made that word up), I thought I would just write a little post about lilac.  And cuckoos.

We inherited four lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) in our garden, so I have had to guess at the varieties.

By the back door is a single ivory, I am guessing ‘Primrose’, which perfumes my early morning explorations of the garden. If we leave the back door open, it perfumes the kitchen.  When the evening sun shines through the heart-shaped leaves, it is just lovely.  This will grow quite large, but we are re-shaping ours and so it has been hacked back to about 1.5m x 1.5m.  You can be quite stern with a lilac.


We have a narrow strip of garden between the south-eastern wall of our house and the garage which only really catches the late-afternoon and evening sun.  Three lilacs have been planted close together (a bit too close for comfort) but they all tolerate these conditions remarkably well.  They also housed our children’s den until very recently, so have been the site of important excavations and building works.

The first is the marvellously frou-frou ‘Emile Lemoine’ – at least that is my guess.  There is this wonderful two-tone effect, with the rosy-pink buds, and lilac open flowers.  They are double, just to add to the feather boa flamboyance.


Then there is a double white, which I am calling ‘Madame Lemoine’.  Not because I am feeling fanciful, but because my research has led me here.  It is pure white, and incredibly fragrant.  There is a cloud of fragrance around it.


And finally, aptly named, (and I am confident of this one) is ‘Sensation’, a bicoloured single.  This is the one I like to show off.  It is lovely from the bud stage to fully open.


At this time of year, the bird song is glorious.  When we sit out we are surrounded.  The blackbird continues to trill.  We can pick out several well-known refrains now.  There is the intermittent cooing of wood pigeons and collared doves, and the percussion of house-sparrows.  We have some very strange-sounding starlings, which have a range of noises varying from coffee-percolator to wah-wah guitar pedal.  But my favourite at this time of year is the cuckoo. When we hear it, we stop what we are doing, look at one another, and smile.

I recorded the cuckoo, but it wasn’t as loud as I would have liked. You might have to turn your volume up to hear it!

Are you tempted by lilac? It is rather out of fashion, but may be time for a revival?

63 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh you’ve stolen my blog post!! Like you, I’m sitting surrounded by lilac and have been thinking a) how rarely I see them elsewhere and b) that they don’t seem very popular anymore.

    1. Ali says:

      Sorry about that! Great minds, and all that.

  2. Thank you for sharing your lovely array of lilacs. I can image the perfume in the air! Across the ocean, I too am enjoying a chorus of birds. It’s so wonderful.

    1. Ali says:

      It brings such a sense of well-being, doesn’t it?

  3. rogerandlis says:

    Gorgeous lilacs, how can they possibly be out of fashion? There is nothing quite like that perfume on a warm May day! None here sadly but we do have plenty of cuckoos . . . I will have to be content with your beautiful photos and pretend I can smell the perfume!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment! Is it too dry I wonder for lilacs?

      1. rogerandlis says:

        I’m not sure. It’s very humid so I think lilacs would grow well (and possibly do in other areas), maybe it’s a local thing. We are very much in hydrangea and camellia country, neither of which I particularly like. That said, roses and jasmine grow in profusion and they are both gathering strength so at least we won’t be scentless!

      2. Ali says:

        So I guess it’s just preference then, and what nurseries offer.

      3. rogerandlis says:

        I think so . . . although I’m on a lilac hunt now! 🙂

  4. annpappas says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen a Lilac plant. Here is a short clip of the Diederik Cuckoo’s call:

    1. Ali says:

      They are quite different, aren’t they?

  5. Aaaahhhh, I can smell them all the way here 🙂

  6. Julieanne says:

    I love the flowers and fragrance of lilacs, but they only flower for 2 weeks of the year and then you just have their rather boring foliage for the rest of the year. I have to say the ones you have posted here do look rather wonderful though. Hummm…

    1. Ali says:

      It’s true; they wouldn’t be my first choice if I were planting a garden with limited space, and they wouldn’t be a ‘feature’ shrub. But useful for a shady space or boundary.

  7. bcparkison says:

    Out of fashion? No…surely not. Something this beautiful should be in every garden. Mine…no …there are some designed for the Southern garden but I’m not bless with one.

    1. Ali says:

      I think lilac will always make a come-back though. It is too lovely to forget!

  8. Very beautiful flowers. Touched my soul. Thank you.

    1. Ali says:

      I am so pleased. Thank you. X

  9. shazza says:

    It must be so fragrant in your garden. 🙂
    I would love to hear a cuckoo again. Its been to long. Think they have disappeared from my neck of the woods unfortunately. 😦 x

    1. Ali says:

      It is a lovely sound, even though they do unspeakable things to the other birds!

  10. janesmudgeegarden says:

    What an inheritance! No matter if lilacs are noting most of the year; they more than make up for it in Spring, I should think.

    1. Ali says:

      They are filling in a gap between tulips and peonies very nicely!

  11. janesmudgeegarden says:

    That should be ‘boring’, of course!

  12. susurrus says:

    I spend some time each year in the Southern US where most gardeners seems to lament their inability to grow lilacs. Meanwhile, I’m marvelling at their crape myrtles. Lilacs are wonderfully fragrant but crape myrtles are multi-stemmed, often have beautifully marked bark and they flower for longer. I enjoy having the chance to admire both, depending on where I am!

    1. Ali says:

      Crepe myrtles are lovely. Such abundance!

  13. Heyjude says:

    Well these are far from boring lilacs. Sensation is sensational!. I had a rather boring lilac lilac years ago, but the scent was amazing. I wonder if they grow in containers? One at the front of the house (north-facing, but lots of light just no sun) would be nice. Even the green would add colour.

    1. Ali says:

      I think you can get dwarf varieties – my mum was looking out for one.

      1. Heyjude says:

        I shall hunt one down.

      2. Ali says:

        I think they will be easy to catch, with some rope and a net. 😀

  14. I’ve been reading your words and wondering why my nose isn’t picking up the sweet scent! I wish I was where you are! I love a good lilac scent heavy in the air.

    1. Ali says:

      I think because we have three shrubs between two buildings we get a lilac fog!

  15. Eliza Waters says:

    Lilacs are one of my spring favorites (along with lily of the valley, malus and peonies). I love the fragrance and bury my nose in sprays whenever I come across them. Mine were here when I arrived and periodically I cut them back. They are overdue for a trim.

    1. Ali says:

      Scent is so important, isn’t it? It brings so many associations. I find I always close my eyes to sniff, maybe blocking out other senses to enjoy it all the more.

      1. Eliza Waters says:

        Same here, I love those blissful moments in the garden. So delightful.

  16. It’s lilac season here too! I love how their fragrance wafts through the air with a light breeze.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, it was lovely yesterday – the scent carried on a warm breeze!

  17. pommepal says:

    Sadly I could not see your lilacs as I am, at the moment, in a poor reception area. But the descriptions came through loud and clear telling me what I was missing. I love lilacs they remind me of my childhood so I will have to comeback to drool over them when I get back home

    1. Ali says:

      Hope they live up to expectations!

      1. pommepal says:

        I’m sure they will

  18. Emma Cownie says:

    Oh, this has reminded me how much I like lilac trees! Lovely!

    1. Ali says:

      I have been doing a fair bit of driving at work today, and have been noticing lilacs EVERYWHERE!

  19. Linda Casper says:

    The perfume from the lilac is gorgeous, even if they do bloom for only a couple of weeks a year as some of your readers have pointed out. I have two very old and ungainly specimens but don’t like to kill any thing off. Do you treat yours as a tree of a shrub? I have seen some smaller species for sale but not sure if their scent is the same.

    1. Ali says:

      As a shrub, so pruning back to get more shoots from the base.

    2. Ali says:

      I would check scent, either by sniffing before buying, or reading the description and cross-referencing with RHS if you are buying online.

  20. My garden came with a patch. It isn’t the most amazing looking plant but lovely scent for the short flowering period. My dwarf Korean lillac bush however is delightful. Compact shrub with wonderful scent. I’ve just dug out three strands of my standard lilac to grow on in pots so I can propagate a few more for my school garden.

    1. Ali says:

      A school garden with lilac sounds lovely. They do make good dens!

      1. Spring flowering plants are better for us as Summer ones get neglected for six week holiday. So don’t do as well. Plus I have little budget to put on plants so anything that can be propagated from my own garden will be going to school. Got hebes, camelias, lavender and the lilac on the go.

      2. Ali says:

        Ah. Yes, that makes sense.

  21. I cannot imagine my garden without at least one lilac. Mine is just starting to open its buds, with bluish purple blooms. As the years have gone by I’m losing more and more of my garden to shade, and I worry about that lilac. Still, for now, it enriches my May!

    1. Ali says:

      Ah, that’s lovely. Ours seem to do ok without very much direct sunlight.

      1. Really? That is good news!

  22. Jenny says:

    Oh! how I miss lilacs.I can still smell their fragrance though. I have not grown them since we lived in St Louis. Texas is just too unfriendly for lilacs.

    1. Ali says:

      The memory of fragrance can be so powerful can’t it?

  23. The cuckoo song is loud and clear, Fabulous!
    I think lilacs are wonderful this year and especially fragrant and in a vase they look dreamy rather like an Edwardian diary. However they sucker and are very dull the rest of the year so you need a big enough space to have them

    1. Ali says:

      Oh good! So glad you heard it! Yes! Very Edwardian! 😀

  24. I love this idea of your garden flaunting it! 🙂 That does sound about right with gardens.

    1. Ali says:

      Do you know I hestitated over that word because it is often used (by women) to berate women. Then I thought of your wisdom about self-love and confidence in our bodies and thought it was time to reclaim the word ‘flaunt’.

  25. I love the sound of those birds. And I love lilacs.

    1. Ali says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed them Kirstin. 😀

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