Way back, I want to write an article about Russian garden. I guess there is no such term, but, you know, there are gardens in Russia and they have some distinctive common traits 😁 There are so many things to consider: historical events, cultural context, aesthetic judgments, sociological phenomena, different climates, etc. I tried to write the article several times but I capitulate because do not have enough expertise on the topic to generalize 🤷‍♀️

Instead, I decided to tell you about one plant that I personally associate with my homeland and is highly prized in Russia. It is lilac.

French lilac became extremely popular in Russia in the XIX century. It was grown extensively in manor gardens and country house gardens. My idea of these gardens comes mainly from fiction books of the golden age of Russian literature. They are romantic, soft and sentimental. There are curved paths, shady alleys, sheltered benches, cozy gazebos, beautiful ponds, welcoming dining area. These gardens are often overgrown and, as time progresses and the epoch of nobility decays, become abandoned and mysterious. Imagine how well lilac fits there! Dense bush with deep-green heart-shaped leaves and spectacular yet delicate scented flowers.

Vrubel, Mikhail. The Lilacs. 1900, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. WikiArt Visual Art Encyclopedia
Polenov, Vasily. Granny’s Orchard. 1878, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. WikiArt Visual Art Encyclopedia

Russian lilac cultivars mostly owe its existence to outstanding self-taught breeder Leonid Kolesnikov (1893-1968). His way as a plantsman was rocky but his passion to lilacs gave the world dozens of beautiful lilac varieties. His most famous cultivar is ‘Beauty of Moscow’. It grows up to 3.5 m high and 2.5 m wide. Plum-pink buds open into beautiful white double flowers with strong delightful fragrance. Furthermore it is really tough lilac as most Kolesnikov’s varieties.

Leonid Kolesnikov
Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow‘ (image by Kor!An, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the recent past landscaping of the territory near apartment buildings in Russia was often done by enthusiasts, not professional horticulturists. And most of them thought that lilacs are great plants. Initially I was willing to count all lilacs within a radius of 500 meters from my apartment, but turns out that it is impossible – there are too many.

Lilacs in public landscaping near my home.

Popularity of lilac in the past makes it nostalgic plant now for many people including me. I remember playing in my grandparent’s garden under the canopy of huge flowering lilac. Me and my sister were sure that Lilac Fairy (from version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that we were familiar with) lived there.

I’m not pretending to be exhaustive about the topic “lilac in the context of Russian history and culture” but want to share with you my perception of this plant beyond aesthetics. Personal and collective background often play an important role in how we see plants.

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