Top Lilacs for Fragrance and Color

Spring means lilacs -- and we have a roundup of 10 top selections for your landscape. These sun-loving, easy-care shrubs are perfect specimen plants or to grow as a hedge for privacy.


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Ted's Top Lilacs

    There are hundreds of lilac varieties. Flower colors range from rich, burgundy-purple to lilac, lavender, blue, white, and even creamy yellow. Lilacs have almost as many scents -- with varying degrees of the light floral scent they're famous for to warm, spicy tones. Read on to learn about which varieties lilac expert Ted Collins of Lilac Hill Nursery in Victor, New York, likes best, so you can enjoy carefree color and fragrance in your yard.

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Angel White

    Create elegance in your garden with the pure white clusters of 'Angel White' blooms. It offers large, very fragrant flowers that have recurved petals, giving them a very unusual look.

    Name: Syringa 'Angel White'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide

    Zones: 3-9

    Grow It For: It's good for warm-weather gardeners. "Not many lilacs bloom in the South, and 'Angel White' has been one that performs well in the South for quite a while," says Ted.

    Also Look For: 'Avalanche', which is also commonly available. It grows faster than 'Angel White'.

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Beauty of Moscow

    One of the most breathtaking lilacs, 'Beauty of Moscow' (also sold as 'Krasavitsa Moskvy'), features pink, pearl-like buds that open into gorgeous double white flowers that are strongly fragrant. It's also a big plant: "They tend to grow like trees, so you need to prune 'Beauty of Moscow' on occasion to keep it under control," says Ted. He predicts in a few years, this will be the best-selling lilac in the country.

    Name: Syringa 'Beauty of Moscow'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: The rich, opulent effect of its double flowers.

    Also Look For: There aren't any varieties that are truly comparable. "This is pretty much in a class by itself," says Ted.

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Congo

    This heirloom variety (from the 1890s) bears beautiful deep wine-red flowers that are as fragrant as they are pretty. "'Congo' is a classic. It's almost always listed in the top five or 10 best by lilac aficionados," says Ted.

    Name: Syringa 'Congo'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 10 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 4-7

    Grow It For: The exquisite dark-colored blooms and great garden performance.

    Also Look For: 'Znamya Lenina' (sometimes sold as 'Banner of Lenin'). "It's another great choice in this color range," says Ted. He also recommends 'Monge', another classic heirloom.

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Lavender Lady

    A profuse bloomer with strongly fragrant flowers, 'Lavender Lady' bears big clusters in the color you'd expect from the name: perfect lavender purple. "Its flowers are huge and the plant is very robust. It's very dependable," says Ted.

    Name: Syringa 'Lavender Lady'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall and 6 feet wide

    Zones: 3-9

    Grow It For: Its tolerance of warm winters. You can enjoy these beautiful blooms in all but the warmest areas!

    Also Look For: There aren't many other lavender-colored lilacs that are good in the South. But in the North, the best substitute for this color is the wild form, Syringa vulgaris, recommends Ted.

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Maiden's Blush

    This distinct selection developed in Canada is extra hardy and bears big, round flower clusters (that remind us of a hydrangea) in candy pink. "'Maiden's Blush' might be the most underrated lilac around. It's extremely fragrant with unique cinnamon tones," says Ted.

    Name: Syringa 'Maiden's Blush'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 8 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 2-7

    Grow It For: Its early blooms. 'Maiden's Blush' usually starts about a week or two before most other common varieties. Plus, it blooms well at a younger age than many other lilacs.

    Also Look For: "There are a lot of nice pinks," says Ted, "But one that's similar is 'Marie Francis'. It's more of a salmon pink."

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President Grevy

    Another old-time favorite, 'President Grevy' offers double soft, light blue flowers that are wonderfully scented. "'President Grevy's been around a long time. It's a grower's favorite because you can't kill it," says Ted.

    Name: Syringa 'President Grevy'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: Its color. This lilac is as close to true blue as they come. Plus, it's great for beginners. "It grows fast and it's tough," says Ted.

    Also Look For: 'President Lincoln', which has a similar color but with single flowers.

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President Lincoln

    Noted for the blueness of the flowers, 'President Lincoln' is a fast grower with clusters of fragrant blooms. "'President Lincoln' is the single true blue variety," says Ted. "The plant has one slight drawback: The flowers tend to be hidden in the leaves and the leaves are huge."

    Name: Syringa 'President Lincoln'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: Its size. 'President Lincoln' offers extremely big flower clusters.

    Also Look For: 'President Grevy', which has a similar color but with double flowers.

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Primrose

    "'Primrose' is unique," says Ted. "It's the only yellow in the field." While not a true lemon yellow, the flowers are creamy-white. As the plant ages, the blooms get more yellow in color. Ted recommends planting it next to a white variety so the color difference really stands out.

    Name: Syringa 'Primrose'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: Its unusual color. This is as close to yellow as a lilac comes.

    Also Look For: This variety is peerless.

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Sensation

    The best-selling lilac on the market, 'Sensation' offers purple blooms distinctly edged in white. "It gets big fast, so have the courage to cut it back," says Ted. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a price for the distinct color: "Like 'Primrose', it's not as fragrant as other lilacs," he says. "But in a bouquet it's dynamite."

    Name: Syringa 'Sensation'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: The dramatic bicolored blooms.

    Also Look For: This is another variety without an equal.

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Tinkerbelle

    The newest selection of the bunch, 'Tinkerbelle' "is a smaller plant with smaller flowers, but in abundance. The blooms are a very unusual hot pink -- the hottest of the pinks," says Ted. The color really stands out against the wine-red buds. This variety has a unique fragrance, which is spicier than it is sweet.

    Name: Syringa 'Tinkerbelle'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 6 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 3-7

    Grow It For: Its small size. This lilac is great for growing along pathways or as a foundation plant. It's a great cut flower, too. "When you take this kind of lilac and mix it in a bouquet, it really stands out," says Ted.

    Also Look For: Littleleaf lilac (Syringa pubescens sp. microphylla), which is also a smaller plant. It only gets 6 feet tall, but in Ted's New York garden, it blooms three times a year (in May, July, and September).

    For more, or to buy these lilacs, check out Ted's nursery, Lilac Hill Nursery: www.doclilac.com

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