When Grandma Daisy came to the Farm as a bride in the decade before World War I, she planted lilac bushes. She was the daughter of a Civil War veteran who had homesteaded along the Creek about five miles upstream and new her father-in-law had homesteaded here at about the same time. Although the old farmer liked to garden, he was pretty certain that the lilac bushes wouldn’t grow well. But, she was determined to have lilacs and hauled pails of water during the dry years to keep them alive. And, the bushes did so well that they almost grew into small trees.
She planted several small clusters of lilac bushes that have bloomed every spring since then. The photo on the left shows one clump that has a pretty good crop of the distinctive-smelling flowers this year. But if you go around to the end of the stand, you can see that not all parts are equally healthy. There are some spots that don’t have flowers and in some places there aren’t even any leaves. That’s shown in the photo on the right.
Not all of the lilac bushes have purple blossoms. There’s one that’s all white and it seems to be in pretty good shape this year. However, another cluster barely has any flowers at all. This small, lonely “bouquet” is surrounded by some leaves that seem to be curled. It looks like something isn’t right in this clump.
The largest bunch that Grandma Daisy planted was along the east side of the yard behind the original farmhouse. There is, without question, a part of this line of lilacs that is dying. There are no flowers and the leaves are so thin that you can see right through to the pasture beyond. In other years the green and purple wall was solid. At the south end where there are no leaves, the gnarled and twisted trunks are stark and naked. The lilacs are dead. Can this seasoned old lilac wood be used to make anything useful, other than memories?
At the north end of the line behind the farmhouse, the leaves are so thin that the old outhouse is no longer hidden. After more than a century, the lilacs that Grandma Daisy planted as a young bride are dead and dying. In the photo on the right, there still are plenty of green leaves in this group out along the driveway, but there are no flowers. The bushes are clustered around the base of hackberry trees that are even older. Many of the shrubs and trees planted in the first two generations are gone.
Lilacs are often associated with death and loss. Think about Walt Whitman’s poem commemorating Lincoln’s death, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed”. We’ve often used lilacs to decorate family graves for Memorial Day when the season produced a good crop of flowers. But, now it looks like the lilacs themselves are dying.