California lilacs (Syringa, not ceanothus)
April 23rd, 2009
A few weeks ago, I interviewed a hot Santa Barbara floral designer for a story that will run in the May issue of 805 Living, our local shelter glossy.
While telling me about the fresh-from-the-garden arrangement he created, the designer mentioned that the lilacs came from a farm in Antelope Valley.
I know of Antelope Valley because it is the famous home of the California Poppy Reserve (which I am kicking myself for NOT getting to see last month when the ubiquitous yellow-orange flowers were in bloom). That flower fact is filed away for future reference . . . but suddenly, the idea of LOCAL lilacs is tickling my fancy in a big way. Some of my best childhood moments were experienced with my face buried in wild, unkempt but intoxicatingly fragrant lilac shrubs: first in the backyard of a Connecticut rental house in the mid-1960s and later in a historic Massachusetts town square where lilacs grew with abandon in the mid-1970s.
In the late 1990s, we planted a Syringa ‘Sensation’ in our Seattle garden. My dear friend and former college roommate (and longtime garden muse) Karen Page selected the plant for us while helping with several landscaping projects. It grew tall and robust and blessed me and my garden alike each June, producing voluptuous trusses of darkest-purple florets edged in pure white. Too beautiful! It now lives in my memories.
So today, while racing through the Thousand Oaks Farmers Market near closing time (to pick up a half-dozen hand-made tamales for dinner), I stopped dead in my tracks at this little scene: a row of white plastic 5-gallon buckets FILLED with pale and deep lavender clusters of lilacs. Two women were working out of the back of a pickup truck, clipping and bundling lilacs: gorgeous, fresh-cut, real lilacs. I overheard one of them telling a customer that she grows the lilacs in Antelope Valley.
The connection was made! I introduced myself to Elizabeth Kilcoyne of Kilcoyne Lilac Farm and her neighbor-assistant Marie. I asked: “Do you sell lilacs to S. R. Hogue in Santa Barbara?” Her face broke into a lovely, warm smile: “Yes.”
I told Elizabeth and Marie about the 805 Living article and they already knew about it – my editor Lynne Andujar and her photographer Gary Moss had shot scenes of Thousand Oaks Farmers Market flower vendors a few weeks ago – for our upcoming flower story.
Without thinking, I switched into Debra-as-Reporter and started quizzing the women about these awesome, California-grown lilacs. Wait!!! I raced to my car and grabbed my little Flip video camera and returned to see whether Elizabeth would let me tape a short interview with her. She agreed and here is the interview:
I came home with a lovely bunch of Elizabeth’s lilacs and have promised myself that come next spring, I will visit her farm and display gardens filled with 150 lilacs. Plus, I need to find an outlet to produce a magazine story about Kilcoyne Lilac Farm.
The varieties seen here are: ‘Charles Jolie’ (or ‘Charles Joly’) and ‘Ludwig Spaeth’ – two dark reddish-purple lilacs (‘Charles’ has a tiny white spot – Elizabeth calls it a ‘B’ – in the center of the floret); and ‘Michael Buchner’, the pale lavender French hybrid. Before I filled a jug with the blooms, I made sure to clip the bottom of each woody stem and then slice the stem in half, with a 1-inch cut. This technique helps the stems drink more water and stay fresh.