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North Dakota Lilacs

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yesterday morning, I spent a happy hour or so propagating lilacs--my heirloom lilac I call Aunt Lolly. I collect root shoots on Easter Day, and coddle and nurture them all spring and summer. I made the mistake of putting a bunch of them in the same big pot, where they quietly intermingled roots in a fibrous, tangled mess all summer long. I managed to extricate and separate them and pot them up. I have a little lilac farm now, and I hope they'll be able to recover from the shock of being separated before winter. Cool weather promotes root growth. I have faith.

I always enjoy having two springs. When we go to North Dakota each June, we get to experience lilacs all over again. Ours have long finished up at home when we arrive to find them in full glory, growing in enormous hedges all over the place. You see, lilacs are native to Siberia, and North Dakota feels a lot like the Gulag to them. They thrive on those northern plains winters and brief, ecstatic summers.

It is my opinion that field trips need balance. So, if you've been out since before light in a fine misty rain and are freezing cold, there is a possibility that something other than birding wil appeal to you. It certainly appeals to me. As leader of our field trip, I took the liberty of announcing that we were making a lilac appreciation stop at this gorgeous little cemetery near Robinson. I did this, knowing full well that it might be outside the experience of many festival-goers. But it was necessary. I mean, look at these plants!

These are not just any lilacs. These are monsters.

And the air is perfumed.

We made side-by-side comparisons of the scent of lavender versus white lilacs. White lilacs have a rounder, more pungent scent that tends more heavily to musk than to the classic deep purple lilac aroma. I think of the classic lilac scent as having a floor, a low note that hits the back of the palate. White lilacs: Still divine, but lacking that floor.

The winds had whipped last year's chipping sparrow nest from the spruce boughs. We put it back.

On a sunny day, I made some more photos of these enormous lilacs.

This being a cemetery, I was drawn into thoughts of little Phyllis Jean, for whom someone still plants a flower. Her parents are doubtless gone now, but someone still remembers.


I am so jealous! Here in central Arkansas, it is far too warm in the winter to get such lovely lilacs. Being a transplant from the north, I miss them!

Ah Julie, you bring back memories. As a child in Northern Ohio, we had a huge lavender colored lilac growing in our yard. Every year my mother would toil over it and make sure it was just so. I used to love to sit under its low hung branches and surround myself in the smell. I miss that bush and recently planted one of my own. Though it is not yet as majestic as those in your photos, I was outside just this morning doting over it and dreaming of a day when mine would too be a grand site to see. Thank you for the beautiful photos and the stroll down memory lane. Right now it is as if I can smell them!!!

There are some real treats when one lives on the wide open prairie. The long vistas and the flowers of promise after a long, cold winter - lilacs.
Appreciated the reminder of how each area of the country is special.

Perhaps the one to leave the flower is her older sister, Harriet. I found this on

Phyllis Jean Giroux, born July 31, 1930 in Jamestown, Stutsman, North Dakota; died May 18, 1831

Father: Leo Horace Giroux, born February 15, 1897 in South Dakota, died April 6, 1943; His father was born in Illinois, his mother in Canada

Mother: Fern Margaret Thomson, born in 1908; her father was born in Scotland and her mother in Pennsylvania

Older sister, Harriet L., born 1928

Leo was a farmer. He and Fern were married in 1927. Neither went to college, but both could read and write.

I could not find what Phyllis died of or any trace of the family after the 1930 census other than Leo's death in 1943. Perhaps Fern remarried. she would only have been 35.

Island Rider, Thank you. This breaks my heart even more. Her sister, now 81...did she plant the geranium? What a lovely thing to do, to find something out about little Phyllis. You leave me breathless and amazed.

I love the smell of lilacs in the spring! They are my favorite flower.

Posted by Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 6:26 AM

A couple neighbors on our street have some lilac bushes close to that size. I love the smell of them when walking the dog in the spring. The robins and catbirds love skulking around in the thick branches too.

Julie - Thank you for that wonderful memory. How I loved walking into those lilacs! The fragrance WAS heavenly and they ARE monsters!!! --Laura

Posted by Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 6:47 PM
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