Syringa vulgaris Madame Lemoine is the undisputed queen of double white lilac plants. Come May the hedgerows are filled with common purple lilac; Madame Lemoine makes an elegant counterbalance with large, clean white double flowers that shine out conspicuously from the heart shaped green foliage. Its flowers are a little larger than some of the best lilacs. They also last longer than many of the other white varieties so that they fill the floral gap in the season between the end of spring bulbs and the major summer blooms. Lilac is one of this country's favourite smells (after lavender and lily of the valley) and Madame Lemoine's heady scent should earn her a place in any scented garden. Lilacs are easy to grow and do well on any soil, even very chalky soils, and cope with full sun or partial shade. They survive even very low temperatures and require minimum maintenance: a mulch of muck in spring and a proper prune every other year. However the longevity of the flowers does mean that they tend to brown towards the end of their lives and so for the perfectionists amongst you some deft dead heading will not come amiss. An added advantage of so doing this that you will encourage more flowers to emerge.
There are various ways to treat with lilacs. They can be left to grow as a small specimen tree and will grow to a pleasing shape. Their scent will linger over a large area of your garden attracting butterflies and pollinating insects. If pruned harder or even pollarded to develop a multi-stemmed shrub and to keep its height and width under check, Madame Lemoine looks lovely in a border surrounded by aquilegias or Geranium 'Johnsons Blue' or contained by a clipped hedge of myrtle. Flower arrangers may want to cut down their lilacs to the ground after flowering so that the following year they are rewarded by the largest flowers possible and very little leaf. Lilacs should be a staple of every May flower arrangement and Madame Lemoine has the best vase life of all. For best results as they say, strip nearly all the leaves from the stem once you have picked it; sear the stem in boiling water for ten seconds; plunge the seared stem in cold water and leave overnight; arrange the next day. Although there is a bit of a lilac renaissance happening at the moment, lilacs are not planted as often as they deserve and part of the reason for this is because they are deemed a 'one season' plant because they only flower for a month or so. But the leaves are a pretty shape and you can use the tree or shrub as a frame to grow other climbers like a Polish Spirit or for a south facing tree the spectacular Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle. And if you would like to grow another lilac then Charles Joly has beautiful, contrasting burgundy flowers and a similarly stunning scent.
The Lemoine family produced hundreds of lilac varieties in Nancy in the mid 19th Century. Unusually, Madame Marie Louise Lemoine helped her husband and son in their horticultural tasks and was responsible for hand-pollinating each tiny individual lilac flower. She deserved the eponymous tribute therefore of one of their best hybrids. But the Lemoine's interests extended beyond lilacs and they introduced a lovely pink Madame Lemoine geranium as well as a multitude of other white flowers so beloved by brides Deutzia x lemoini with its small, bell-shaped white blooms, an herbaceous peony Mont Blanc which features big, fluffy white flowers on tall stems, the Anemone Honorine Jobert and several Philadelphus hybrids with their pure white, fragrant flowers with a scent reminiscent of orange blossoms.