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Andreana Bitsis

Ask Ella: The Antique Beauty Of Lilacs

Ask Ella is a recurring Garden Collage feature where we ask our in-house florist, Ella Stavonsky, about the history of, origin, and maintenance that goes into some of the most intriguing flowers on the market today. This column is dedicated exclusively to common and rare varieties of flowers you’re likely to find at your local market. This week, we spotlight lilac– an all-time favorite with one of the most irresistible smells.

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Originating in Persia, lilac is a well-loved flower, long cherished for both its soft appearance and its potent perfume. Puritans brought lilacs to America from Europe, and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew the fragrant plant in their personal gardens, which has subsequently made it’s beautiful purple blooms synonymous with mid-Atlantic gardens in the spring.

In addition to its beauty in a bouquet, French Lilac (a cultivar of lilac) has been revered as a powerful healing plant and has shown promise for use in the treatment of diabetes in commercial medicines today. Lilac is also used less formally in aromatherapy to relieve anxiety and stress, and can of course be eaten in a number of ways (we love dusting a few blossoms over cakes).

Lilac Ask Ella

Andreana Bitsis

Unfortunately, lilacs are also infamous for being a short-lived plant when cut. To keep them looking fresh, Ella recommends recutting and opening up the base of the lilac’s stems before placing them in an arrangement. While you can scratch the bottoms using a knife as you do with hydrangeas, Ella advises upgrading to a hammer, as lilacs tend to have a woodier stem that is more difficult to open up (smash about an inch of stem). Ella also suggests starting the lilac off with a shock therapy treatment as soon as you arrive home, rather than waiting until it begins to wilt. Once cooled, place a few drops of bleach in the water to kill any bacteria. Every second or third day, change the water and repeat the whole process.

An almost ideal flower, lilacs are not only an affordable, fragrant addition to bouquets, but they pair well with just about every other springtime bud. Ella often mixes her lilac with peonies, hydrangeas, and viburnum for an elegant, countryside look (just be careful to remove the peonies when doing shock therapy). A bunch of lilac by itself is also sweet and inviting– try staging some in a ceramic pitcher or another simple, arcadian vessel.

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