The classic lilac, Syringa vulgaris Charles Joly will grow into a medium sized tree within 10 years but can be maintained as a shrub with judicious annual pruning. The major merit of lilac is their unparalleled flowers and heady scent on easily grown and maintained plants. This applies to the whole of our range of lilac plants. Charles Joly has panicles of deep purple/burgundy, double flowers that will flood your garden with scent and lure butterflies and insects in from miles around. Dead-heading will keep your tree flowering for longer and prevent the flowers browning to look unsightly. Once the main event is over, lilac trees have unusual, heart-shaped leaves that are ornamental in their own right and the tree's upright habit also recommends it. Fairly unfussy about soils, lilacs grow particularly well in neutral to alkaline soil which makes them contenders for gardens where builder's rubble forms part of the soil composition. They also seem not to mind pollution. Any flowering shrub will prefer full sun to perform optimally but Charles Joly can manage a little shade. Lilacs tend to be multi-stemmed unless you prune them otherwise and they can become a little leggy without pruning. It repays dividends if you remember to prune your lilac after flowering each year, not least because lilacs flower on the previous year's growth and so this gives them the maximum time to recover and prepare for the show the following year.
Lilacs were ubiquitous in Edwardian times when they were incredibly popular as a cut flower. They then became less fashionable and now, although everyone will cite it as a favourite smell, very few lilacs are seen in gardens. Perhaps this is because the season is relatively short but they are so worthwhile for that time spanning the gap between bulb's brilliance and summer showiness that they are due a revival. Lilac's foliage and sensational panicles mean that it works well at the back of a mixed or herbaceous border; the flowers contrasting well with late tulips and early peonies while the pure, bright green of the foliage makes a good foil to later summer flowers like roses, irises and so forth. They make good specimen trees, especially if they can be planted close to where you can enjoy their smell, not just their look.Or you can use lots of lilacs as a hedge that flowers outrageously with an informal, cottage garden feel or even include them in an existing non-flowering hedge like privet. By coppicing them every couple of years, ie cutting the main stem down to the ground, you will also derive the best flowers for cutting. When using lilacs in an arrangement you will need to strip all that thirsty foliage from the stem and sear the stem in boiling water before resting the stems in cold water for as long as possible and ideally overnight. Then arrange them and fill the house with that soft and evocative smell. That way the flowers will last for ages. And if you are looking for other very pretty spring/early summer flowering trees, take a look at Amelanchier Robin Hill for a very different look.
We can thank the Lemoine family of Nancy in France for most of the lilacs that we have today. Victor Lemoine (1823-1911) had already bred the amazing anemone Honorine Jobert and the famous Sarah Bernhardt peony when he was caught up in the Franco-Prussian war. Stuck in Nancy, surrounded by Prussian soldiers, he could only concentrate on what was in his garden - a double lilac that he then crossed with various other varieties. The result over the next 71 years and two more generations of Lemoines was 214 named cultivars of which only a few are now extinct and Charles Joly was one of them. In fact Victor Lemoine was the first foreigner to be awarded the prestigious Victoria Medal for services to horticulture.