As a child I recall our teachers have a desk cluttered with the flowers that all of us seemed to have in our backyards. Wrapping the woody stems in damp paper towel then wrapping the stems with tinfoil.
These beauties came from my girlfriends home in Faraday. What a gorgeous gift. Every time I walk past them I'm reminded of her generosity as their smell is heavenly.
The lilac bush growing up in our backyard as children was a light variety with a powerhouse of scent. I remember how when new neighbours moved in, they didn't realize what it was and while my mom was out chopped down over half of the 100 year old 20 foot high lilac bush. We were devastated!
When driving out in the country on heritage properties, the homes may be crumbling yet you always seem to find a healthy stand of lilac, as if the trees were comforting the old place. Beside the lilacs you will usually always find a patch of hardy rhubarb as well.
Lilacs and rhubarb are consistent, silent witnesses to Canadian settlement. No two plants were better suited to pioneer families. Like human pioneers, both plants are hardy, survive being transported over long distances and are easy to start from roots. Long before garden centres people traded roots and cuttings with family and neighbours.
Plants came west from Ontario, and up from the U.S., first by covered wagon, then by train along the recently completed Railway Lines.
The fact that the two plants are frequently found together gives us insight into the character of Canadian settlers who valued beauty as much as food. Rhubarb sustained their bodies; lilacs nourished their souls.
The sight of a rhubarb shoot poking through the chilly soil was welcome. Rhubarb is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, and calcium thus given the name of Spring Tonic. The leaves contain oxalic acid, which keeps moose and deer from eating the rhubarb. Water from boiled leaves will serve as an insecticide. Moreover, rhubarb NEEDS cold winters to thrive. It grows well in poor soil. Both robust and nutritious, it was the perfect plant for homesteaders.
So are lilacs. The lilac is one of the longest-lived shrubs. The oldest known in North America, over three hundred years old. In mythology, lilac is the flower of the Goddess Venus which is understandable when you smell the heady flowers in bloom.
The first shrub I planted in our new home up North was a lilac. I'm impatient as I want it to grow faster than it is! Yet just like pioneers, when circumstances change and it is time to move on to a new location, the person who follows us will have the joy of lilacs (and rhubarb!) to enjoy for many years to come. Both plants will serve you well and seem to thrive on neglect. So plant your lilacs and rhubarb this Spring if you don't have any yet. Nurture you body but your soul as well.