Syringa or Lilac trees make wonderful ornamental features, with their delectably fragrant, conical shaped spring flowers available in a range of colours. Choose from pink, purple, yellow or white, not just lilac! These highly scented small trees or large bushes are perfect for a sensory garden and ideal when there is not a lot of space, so even small gardens can have that wow factor!
Is a Lilac a shrub or a tree? Well, it's makes a bush shape so many people would regard that as a shrub but it also ages into a gnarled small tree reaching about 20ft in 10-20 years. So, it's both really. They are ideal for the back of borders to bring good height to the scheme and wonderful partnered with others flowering at the same time - Laburnum, Hawthorn, or Ceanothus would be our favourites. Or you can remove the lower branches to creat a single stem tree, or carefully select just a few well-placed stems to grow on to create a beautifully balanced multi stemmed shrub.
Syringa trees flower on old wood so the timing of pruning is important. Established plants need very little attention, but to encourage flowers on lower branches, you should cut out some of the tallest stems just after flowering (in mid-summer). As with all shrubs, dead or damages or diseased stems should be removed. On young plants, prune to create an open framework, removing crossing stems or shorten any whippy long stems.
Old, neglected, overgrown Lilac trees can withstand very hard pruning to restore them although it does mean that there will be no or little flowering for a couple of years. Prune all stems (yes, all!) to about one foot from ground level when the plant is fully dormant in mid-winter but take care not to prune below the graft point and then thin out new stems in the following dormant season leaving two or three shoots per stem.
The name Syringa is Latin for 'a tube'. This is thought to be in reference to the broad pith found in some species that the Ancient Greeks used to hollow out to make reed pipes or flutes. Vulgaris is the Latin for 'common'. The colour lilac gained its name from the shade of purple on many of the Syringa species, in particular, Syringa vulgaris. The term French Lilac refers to the modern double flower cultivars made famous by prolific breeder Victor Lemoine.
Lilac trees peaked in their appeal in the early 20th century, but have been cultivated in the UK since the 16th century. The French horticulturalists, the Lemoine family, bred over 200 cultivars - including our own Madame Lemoine variety. Lilac trees are so popular that many Lilac festivals are held throughout America. The longest running being in Rochester, New York since 1898. It is held at Highland Park and boasts the largest amount of Lilac tree varieties in one place, most having been developed there. Lilac flowers are also the state flower of New Hampshire.
Syringa trees are commonly used as a symbol of love. In Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon, Syringa represent Easter as they flower around that time.