Growing up I often heard stories of lilac stealing. Grand adventures involving driving slowly down empty alleyways, secretly snipping branches that had escaped the property line and sometimes even sneaking into a vacationing neighbors yard for a handful of the fleeting fragrant blossoms.
My parents were both very strict when it came to honesty, integrity and being a decent human being but lilacs and the sport of stealing them were never frowned upon. By the time I’d notice the purple flowers budding around town and mention it, they’d have already been stalking good snipping spots for weeks. Nothing too obvious, or where anyone would ever notice a missing handful or two, just little corners, quiet roads and abandon houses.
Last weekend on our way home from a wedding delivery, Chris and I passed an old condemned house that’s been vacant for years with a yard full of blooming bushes. We carefully surveyed the scene to be sure there weren’t any tenats and then cut a huge armload of the fragrant blossoms for a bouquet.
Anyone well versed in the art of lilac thievery will tell you that foraged lilacs always smell best.
I can never figure out why but it’s true.
I am often asked how to get the longest vase life from these fleeting flowers. There are a few factors that make all of the difference.
First, stage of harvest is important. I like to pick the flowers when at least 1/3 of the florets are open (pictured left). Lilacs don’t open much after they’re cut so if you harvest when they’re too closed, they’ll never fully open.
Second, you can certainly harvest fully open blossoms (pictured right) but the vase life will be decreased by a couple of days.
Here’s the most important tip. Take off as many leaves as you can right after harvest (before and after removing leaves pictured left) so that the flower doesn’t have to work so hard keeping all of that foliage hydrated. Then slice up the woody stem and twist back (pictured right) so lots of the wood is split and able to take up water.
Set your freshly harvested blooms into a bucket filled at least 1/2 way full with water and then let them sit somewhere cool for a few hours before arranging. These simple steps work for me every time.
Now, if you have any tricks you’re willing to share, please leave them in the comment section below. I’d love to know what works for you!