Ways to Enjoy Lilacs From Décor to Popsicles
Celebrate our state's flower by making lilac popsicles, attending The Wentworth-Coolidge Lilac Festival and more
Just as our landscape emerges from a long, white winter, New Hampshire’s state flower, the purple lilac, begins its fleeting season of fragrance and color that reminds us why this bloom is one to celebrate.
The story of the lilac is one intricately woven into the fabric of the Granite State. It was a favorite garden shrub of the colonists who, in the late 1760s, planted European cultivars on the Seacoast. A hardy, woody plant, the purple lilac grows well in our multizoned state, and in just a few years, produces a generous harvest of fragrant blooms.
Gov. John Wentworth, New Hampshire’s first governor, was a big fan of the lilac and dotted his official Portsmouth residence with a multitude of plants brought from England. The flowering shrub grew in popularity in the 1800s as botanists and landscape enthusiasts introduced a mix of hybrid varieties boasting flowers in all shades of purple and white.
The inclusion of the purple lilac in Portsmouth’s first settlement endures to this day. The Governor Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion celebrates the lilac season with a spectacular outdoor festival for the whole family. Enjoy tours of the grounds and mansion, stroll the waterfront and visit the plant stand for young lilacs you can purchase and plant at your own home. Bring a camera and browse the lilac paintings by local artists that are for sale and fully savor this special season.
The 2020 festival date has not yet been announced, but look for it in late May. Also coming at the end of that month is “All About Lilacs,” an afternoon of workshops also held at the mansion. Guest speakers will share information on how to grow and care for lilacs, you can take a guided tour to view heirloom lilacs, and plants will be available for sale. Visit wentworthcoolidge.org for more information, and read on for ideas and inspiration for decorating with this lovely flower.
Savoring the Season
The bloom time for lilacs is short, just a few weeks between late May and early June. The best way to enjoy the flowers is to plant bushes in your yard and to cut the blooms to add the fragrance to your home. Hybrids come in 100 varieties and in multiple shades, from light purple to a rich and royal shade of burgundy. White lilacs are also popular, and all produce a deep, intoxicating and unmistakable scent.
Preparing Blooms for Arrangement
Lilacs have tough, woody stems and need a lot of hydration when used in a cut arrangement. Sharp pruning shears and a hammer to smash the stems will prepare the blooms to accept the maximum amount of water.
1. Cut lilac blooms early in the morning when the air is cool and the shrub isn’t sapped by the afternoon sun.
2. With sharp pruning clippers, cut blossoms from the bush, leaving 8 to 10 inches of woody stem for arranging. Cut stems a few inches above the nubby growth knot.
3. On a block of wood or cutting board, smash 1 or 2 inches of the bottom stem and place directly into fresh, cool water. Change water every two days for longest bloom life.
Ways to Enjoy the Many Lilac Varieties at Home
Arrangements are the natural way to enjoy lilac flowers. Mix colors and varieties to make interesting displays, or use one variety to make a bold statement. Purple-colored glass, old stoneware and decorative pottery all make beautiful vessels for blooms, but you can also be more creative by weaving branches into a wreath for a garden party, or adorn the top of a hat for a special occasion like a wedding. A favorite idea of mine is to spread the season through an unexpected gift. Tie a glass jar with ribbon or twine and fill with water. Add a small nosegay of lilacs and hang on a front door as a surprise sentiment of the season. Leave a small note or simply keep the gift from a secret admirer.
Where to Buy Lilac Bushes
New Hampshire state parks and highways have a multitude of plantings that you may enjoy on country rides and sightseeing excursions, but to add the lilac to your home landscape, visit one of these popular garden centers to find an array of species and colors.
Bedford Fields Home & Center
331 Route 101, Bedford
Churchill’s Garden Center
12 Hampton Rd., Exeter
Country Brook Farms
175 Lowell Rd., Hudson
Demers Garden Center
656 S. Mammoth Rd., Manchester
Maple Hill Nursery
197 W. Swanzey Rd., Swanzey
Rolling Green Nursery
64 Breakfast Hill Rd., Greenland
& Garden Center
141 Rollins Rd., Rollinsford
The Wentworth-Coolidge Lilac Festival
Portsmouth, held in late May. The 2020 date to be announced soon. Free. Go early, the festival is popular and attracts a large crowd. Parking is also free, but a stroller is best for young children.
The Wentworth-Colidge Mansion, a New Hampshire historic site
375 Little Harbor Rd., off Route 1-A
Honey Lilac Popsicles
Refreshing and pretty, these honey lilac popsicles are an early summer heat reliever.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 10 Popsicles
Calories: 34 cal
• 3 cups water
• 1/3 cup lilac honey
• 3 drops of food coloring in shades you love, like lilac, violet and lavender
1. In a small saucepot, bring water to just under a boil. Remove from heat and stir in honey.
2. Fill popsicle molds, leaving about an 1/8-inch (3mm) head room at the top. Wipe the top of the mold dry, place lid on popsicles and insert the popsicle sticks. Freeze overnight or at least eight hours.
3. To release the pops, turn the mold on its side and run water over both sides. Serve immediately or use freezer wrap and store individually in the freezer.