Varieties of Lilacs I Grow


(And would like to grow)

Do you second guess your garden? I often do. Over the years mine has become more of a shrub garden than the perennial borders it was first planned to be. One of the original shrubs here was the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris. I thereafter planted numerous named varieties to obtain the flower variations that fascinated me.

I would love to plant more, but there is a limit in even a large garden for these tree-like shrubs. My opinions on those varieties I’ve grown might be useful to readers, and by offering views on those I wish I had, I get to vicariously plant more, so to speak.

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Syringa Vulgaris

My rural property came with an old common lilac already growing here. It’s original center was long gone and the shrub had become a circle of small trunks surrounding what was a child’s secret enclosure, perfect for playing out imaginary adventures.

The Lilac bench
The Lilac bench is a wonderful place to rest between gardening chores.

Some of the older trunks had become riddled with borers, which lilacs are prone to harbor, so at one point we reduced the entire planting to a foot high. This renewed it, and I regularly pruned the growth once it again reached mature size.

Each year, the lilac is laden with it distinctively hued and fragrant flowers. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds like to rest inside its shady branches.

Common Purple Lilac

It is surprising how lilac shrubs attract and shelter butterflies and even hummingbirds.

President Lincoln French Lilac

Larger blooms than the common type in a softer grey-lilac. In my garden it seems to have somewhat less panicles, though in one of the sunniest spots. It appears to be a larger bush over all, to me. Otherwise, it is typical with heart shaped leaves, and upward reaching branches.

I thought I would like it better than I do, because of the grey blue color. However, I would not buy it again if I was to choose from experience. While not unhappy with it, the features were not sufficiently superior to pick over another variety.

Ellen Willmott

Miss Ellen Willmott lilac blossom
You can see why I planted this one.

Salicyna [CC BY-SA 4.0 ] from Wikimedia Commons

‘Ellen Willmott’ is a white lilac. I chose it because it is that color plus it has double blossoms, but when I bought two white lilacs (this cultivar and the Mme. Lemoine), it was not noted that they were weaker than the purple types.
It may not be for everyone, ‘Ellen Willmott’ seems to struggle and be more prone to problems. Admittedly, I grow my syringas in very different spots in the garden, and the placement of this one is out in the open where the heat of the sun and blast of the winter winds are greatest. The ground might be a little more soggy, too.

If those things are taken into account, I am happy with the blooms of this variety. White lilacs are beautiful in arrangements. Because of the blooms, I would definitely plant this one, again.

One other observation is that it never seemed to have much scent. Not my imagination, since I found it listed on Arnold Arboretum’s list as having a “0” scent rating.

The entire shrub is smaller in size than the ‘President Lincoln’, and the flowers seem daintier, as well. It does not have as much bloom as the common type.

Named after the famous English Gardening maven, Miss Ellen Willmott, this is certainly a garden worthy cultivar.

Mme Lemoine

I would choose this, Ellen Willmott’ and the common Syringa vulgaris for my top three lilacs. This is a white lilac with double flowers.

Rarely do we include lilacs for anything other than their scent, so I’d choose these three on that basis. I realize some have novelty colors, but for garden worthiness, a lilac really should contribute perfume.

Mme. Lemoine has all the typical features of the shrub, with the diference being in the white blossoms.

Madame Lemoine Lilac

Ludwig Spaeth

Ludwig Spaeth Lilac

This was one of those substitutions for sake of cost and availability. Originally, intending to plant ‘Charles Joly‘ , I found Ludwig Spaeth. Deep purple with good perfume, this was a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Both have good scent, and deeper color which I was looking for. I believe the Charles cultivar has a more reddish hue, and double flowers. While liking the idea of double petals, the reality is that this doesn’t make much of a difference in the garden. It is more a feature for flower arrangements.

Garden Making Tip

When I was choosing which lilacs to buy I was heavily influenced by books I was reading. So, familiar with names of desired varieties, it was easier to pick up something on sale. I recommend this tip for purchasing plants for a garden. It is a simple matter when planning a garden to do all the research on which colors and cultivars will work with your garden. Then, look for nursery or online resources; finally, search through those offered at discount when making a purchase.

I have picked up some desirable plants this way, and especially in those lean years when I had little money for new plants- it made all the difference.

Not every choice will be provided a discount, but you may be able to find a substitute that is loved as well as the original. Budget is a very important part of making a garden.

Lilacs I Would Like To Grow

President Grevy Lilac

Would more lilacs be purchased for this property? Honestly, no. They are very large and I have enough for all the places, and more which seemed to benefit from their planting.

However, if I had to do things over…

Using the above outlined, discount purchasing tip I had substituted an on-sale President Lincoln for the originally desired President Grévy French Lilac. I haven’t seen the Pres. Grévy in person, but I may have liked him better.

I also planted starts of the original common lilac in several places on the grounds here. In retrospect I would have like to have had some of the wonderful and exciting cultivars, instead. A great place to start looking for your next list of lilacs is on a pdf put out by Arnold Arboretum.

If I were younger and not waning in my gardening career, it might be worth it to dig up mistakes and replant. But I am content. The wonderful thing about the common Syringa vulgaris is its wonderful fragrance. It always freely gives that, and that is why we love lilacs.

Dreamed-About Fancy Cultivars

  • ‘Sister Justina’ (white)
  • ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ (pink-white) Beauty of Moscow Lilac
  • Evangeline Lilac (light purple, hycinthiflora cross)
Pruning Lilacs

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.