The Lesson of the Lilac


When I moved into my house more than four years ago, I thought a lot about the yard. I thought a lot about how I didn’t want to cut grass. I thought about how I wanted a garden all of my own. But I was nervous, for many reasons. First, I carry a lot of self doubt along with my trowel and garden shovel. I have always deferred to others to help me navigate the yard. My mother had a way with plants. Sitting in our glassed-in porch of our Milwaukee home, you shared a seat with an encroaching Spider Plant while a Wandering Jew tapped at your shoulder and stray fronds of the Boston Fern landed on your head. She was one of the rare people I knew that made African Violets bloom more than just for the few weeks after they came from the store. She repotted, divided roots, and created starter plants from clippings with the ease Biblical figures made wine from water.

She had many favorite plants—divided, of course, by varietal. She had conifers she favored and annuals and perennials that she adored, and specific herbs, certain tomatoes, and blooming bushes that she was quick to choose over others. She was a member of the Herb Society, the Garden Club, and a favored customer of our suburban nursery where the staff actually knew you—and really knew you when you returned every season asking for just the right mulch for the bushes or the best fertilizer for the vegetables.

I have plants I favor, but am still learning and a cautious learner at that. I relied heavily on my friend Scott who taught me how to create a lasagne garden, doing away with all the grass through layers and layers and layers of newspaper, mulch, compost, grass, and leaves. It is my friend JR who makes the whole yard sing every spring and fall and makes me a little more than envied by the neighbors. But in between, I add my two cents worth.

The only plant I can call a hundred percent my own is the lilac bush. The first spring after I moved in, I bought one because, well, I’m sentimental and I knew my mother loved them and in a way I thought this showed she was a part of my new house and my new life. Thing was, I planted it in the shade. The lovely Dogwood blooms and leafs out and my lilac is left covered and unconvinced that it should bloom.

I was torn between the realities of needing to change and being afraid to change. I could leave the lilac and it would survive, but it would not bloom. Or, I could move the lilac and possibly let it meet its demise. Last fall, I took a deep breath and said to the lilac—whose fate felt very heavy in my shovel held hands—let’s move! I made a big hole, I dug around the lilac making plenty of room for the tangle of roots and transplanted it to the backyard where the early Spring sun shines well. I planted it between a big old rock my friend Scott had put in my garden and a stone statue from my mother’s garden. Protected on either side by gardeners who had left this world, the lilac seems to have just the right juju in its new home.

I cannot claim a green thumb, but I can claim taking a risk. And that risk has given me over thirty blooms. That risk has given me the sweet scent the draws my mind right back to my Midwestern roots. That risk reminds me that sometimes we are just fine to stay where we are—we will survive. However, if we are willing to change—if we are willing to seek more light—maybe we too will bloom.


  1. Sheila Wenzel says:

    Very beautiful! I too love the Lilac. Ten years ago we moved into a home that gives us and our neighbors lots of Lilac love with 100’s of blooms that fill the air and attract many viewers and those who stop for the occasional smell. We are also blessed with those neighbors who stop and ask if they can please have just one. We say no, please take as many as you like.

    We took a chance with moving to this home ten years ago and we have been blessed in so many ways.

    Seeking more light can bring much joyY, at least it did for us.

    Thank you for sharing you sweet stories. You are a beautiful light to my heart.


    1. Ann says:

      Thank you sweet friend. I like to know that we share a love of lilacs and light! Isn’t that joyous.

      Sending you love and light always, Love!

  2. patrick says:

    for me, it’s the sweet gardenia which grows by leaps and bounds in coastal carolina but is just a house plant in the blue grass….well the gardenia and peonies…lovely reflection. a.

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