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Syringa villosa - hairy lilac

Hairy lilac flowers after the common lilac (S. vulgaris), in late June. During flowering the shrub is covered in tight conical clusters of flowers on downy stalks, opening a beautiful rose-red, which gradually fades. The scent is faint, and perhaps less attractive than in other lilacs. But even without flowers the hairy lilac is a beautiful, rounded, broadly-growing shrub. The leaves are large, often quite narrow and long-tipped, dull green above and blue-green below.

Hairy lilac is native to northern China, where it grows in moist to dry shrubbery on slopes, in sparse forest and on river banks at elevations 1200-2200m. It has been grown as an ornamental since the 1800s, when Dr. Emil Bretschneider sent seeds from Peking to Europe and the United States. However, it was originally discovered by the French Jesuit and botanist d’Incarville as early as 1750. Its winter hardiness may be judged from the fact that the shrubs at Mustila have been grown from seed originating in Tomsk, Siberia. The species hybridises easily with other lilacs, and its genes can be found in many varieties.


Syringa wolfii - Wolf's lilac

There are over 20 species of lilac (Syringa), depending on who is counting, all of them with beautiful scented flowers; two are from Europe, the remainder from Asia, mainly eastern Asia.

Of the eastern Asian species, the flowers of S. wolfii are particularly large and beautiful. The inflorescence is large, broad, erect and multi-stemmed. The individual flower is horn-shaped, with four petals, each one attractively pointed. The scent is strong and pleasant, with the colour varying between individuals and with provenance from white to various shades of violet and purple-red. Bi-coloured shrubs have also been noted.

S. wolfii grows naturally in Manchuria, Korea and the Russian Far East in the rocky mountain shrub layer, in forests and river valleys. It was discovered by V. L. Komarov and brought into production in St. Petersburg in the early 1900s. Despite its beauty, it has remained largely unknown in the West. It blooms about two week after the common lilac (S. vulgaris). It is hardy in places like Archangel and Tomsk, so it should also be suitable as an ornamental in northern Finland.


Syringa vulgaris - common, or French lilac

The scent of lilac blossom is an inseparable feature of the Finnish summer, just like the slightly later blossoming of the midsummer rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia 'Plena'). The large lilac shrubs are covered in early summer with violet or white, strongly scented, erect flower clusters. The lilac’s smooth pointed, almost heart-shaped leaves are also easily recognizable, as are the tall strong stems. Lilac wood is extremely hard and close-textured.

The species grows naturally in the Balkan Peninsula in moist rich soil among other shrubs. Its journey towards garden popularity began there about 500 years ago. It arrived in Finland in 1728, when the apothecary Synnerberg brought the first seedling from Stockholm to Turku. About 20 years later August Ehrensvärd at the Suomenlinna Fortress obtained seedlings from France; these lilacs still bloom there in Piperin Puisto (Piper Park)

Lilacs spread throughout Finland in the 1700s but became general in parks and gardens only towards the end of the 1800s. The species produces root suckers which are easy to transplant. Once it has settled in its new home it is very tenacious. Although the house may have fallen into ruin or been removed, the lilac shrubs grow on, indicating where once there had been a garden.


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