The Fragrant Lilac Shrub I’ll Never Forget

By Nikki Tilley | May 23, 2022
Image by Diana Ibrasheva
by Nikki Tilley
May 23, 2022

Ahh, the old-fashioned lilac bush. Those light purply pops of fluffy-looking (to a kid’s eye) scented flowers are like nothing else. It’s one of my favorites, taking me back to my childhood home.

Unforgettable Lilac Flowers – A Trip Down Memory Lane 

“C’mon kiddos, load up,” mom yelled to us. “We need to go house hunting. Get in the car.” As frustrating a time this may have been for my parents, it was an exciting time for my siblings and me. We had no clue then how stressful moving could be, especially last minute. All we knew was that we were going on an adventure – picking out our new home. There were two houses my parents were stuck on, so they let us have a say in which one we liked most. The moment I saw it, I instantly knew the old two-story, tin-roofed house was the one. And as luck would have it, we all agreed. 

The house was over a hundred years old, originally a log cabin that had been refurbished with additions built on. There were outbuildings that included an old shed, detached garage and a somewhat dilapidated guest house on the property, and a big barn to explore too. I couldn’t wait to comb through everything for clues to its previous owners. What was their life like then? The huge backyard had plenty of space for both my mom’s garden and us to play. There was even an empty field next to it that bordered the woods. It was perfect. I remember the large oak tree just outside the kitchen window and just ahead of it, towards the front yard stood a beautiful lilac. As big as the oak tree was, I’m sure it had been there long before the house was. But who planted that lilac? The people that lived here before us, or before them? And what had been in that field? Were there horses or cows at one time? Were they farmers with vegetable crops?

I pondered many of these questions on the front porch swing. It was also one of my favorite places to sit each spring, where I could get lost in the aroma of that fragrant lilac shrub. Mom would cut some of the lilac flowers for bouquets to bring inside, their fragrance wafting throughout the house. It was one of the few things that brought me happiness once I hit my troublesome teen years. And while I never dared growing them then, plants had that effect on me and still do. I often wondered if the people living there before us enjoyed the smell of lilacs too. Did they also bring the blossoms inside? Was the scent just as comforting to them as it had been for me?

When I ventured out on my own, got married and tried my hand at gardening, I planted my first lilac. The first time it bloomed, I was instantly transported back to that old two-story house with the tin roof. Memories quickly flooded my thoughts”¦ the sound of rain hitting the roof, flying kites in that big field, picking veggies in mom’s garden, treasure hunting in the backyard shed, accidentally setting the barn on fire (another story for another time), getting lost along the magical grass paths my dad mowed for us, ice skating on the frozen puddles in the driveway, watching the resident raccoons share a meal with our stray cat (I named him Pewter), sneaking out the window at night just to sit on the roof and gaze at the stars, going on expeditions in the woods, stumbling across an alien-looking plant I would one day come to know as passionflower“… so many things. Almost a lifetime of memories nearly forgotten by time, but just like that were resuscitated back to life with one whiff of those lilac flowers.

Years would pass and I’d plant a couple more lilac varieties, this time yellow and white. Neither would have the same effect though. To me, the old-fashioned lilac bush carries me away with its rose-like smell and subtle hints of vanilla or almond. It’s hard to put into words exactly, perhaps a floral bliss to yesteryear would be more accurate – and a trip down memory lane.

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