Patriotic Lilacs | Shelby Lee Adams | Real American Souls

Betsy Ross (left), Old Glory (middle), and Declaration (right). (Credit: Photo by Margaret R. Pooler)

Updated: May 12, 2010

I adore lilacs, as a reminder of my paternal grandmother, Marie Enke. I can’t come near a bouquet of lilacs, without thinking of her and everything that she meant to me. I so loved her.

Refreshing this article, I note that the International Lilac Society Convention is going on this weekend —  May 13-16, 2010 — at the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, USA

New Patriotic Lilac Varieties

Science Daily reported in 2008 that: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently developed and introduced three new cultivars of lilacs. Honoring the patriotic role lilacs have played in U.S. history, the new shrubs have been dubbed ‘Betsy Ross’, ‘Old Glory’, and ‘Declaration’.

The names of all three cultivars were selected as part of a “U.S. Flag” series of lilacs from the National Arboretum. No word on whether the Conservatives named the new lilacs or just ordinary Americans who stand firm for lilac values.

American History and Lilacs

I don’t think of the earliest settlers bringing bushes and flowering plants with them on their voyage to America, but East Asian and Southeastern lilacs were sold in American nurseries as early as 1800. The oldest American lilacs are believed to live at the Wentworth-Coolidge estate in Portsmouth, NH.

A Brit, Governor John Wentworth and his wife Frances were driven out of Portsmouth in 1775 … but not before planting lilacs.  

In 1767, Thomas Jefferson recorded his method of planting lilacs in his garden book, and in 1785, George Washington noted that he had transplanted lilacs in his garden.

The International Lilac Society, led by French woman Nicole Jordan, now living in Virginia, reports a revival in lilacs.  I would be ecstatic if lilacs bloomed longer. There is a sadness in buying them or cutting them from my bush here in Carversville.

I know our love affair will be fleeting, and I must lavish my full attention on these tender blooms, not wasting a moment of our short-lived romance. (After this writing, the smaller, suitable Bloomerang variety of lilacs came to market in 2009, promising lilacs on demand from spring through September. )

Stopping by Flickr for photos of lilacs at Monticello, I stumbled on this  superb photo of a bumble bee pollinating cercis canadensis, on the grounds of Monticello. I’m not enough of a botanist to know if these bushes are cousins to lilacs. For the moment, let’s pretend, they are. If I were a flowering bush matchmaker, I would definitely introduce them.

Flickr photographer  R Tom Sizemore III

The beauty of the Internet and websites like Flickr, is that one continuously stumbles into new memories.

Looking at Dr. Sizemore’s photos of cabins in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reminds me another very special day in my life …  a total stranger, driving me in an open jeep through some of the poorest, impoverished parts of America.

I was in search of baskets that day, for my New York shop… another business trip that brought me into intimate touch with people living an existence totally different from mine. I will go into the memory and try to recall it for you, one day soon.

Shelby Lee Adams, from “Appalachian Portraits”Update: Months have passed since this writing, and Shelby Lee Adams has been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship for 2010.  I recently watched this Ovation TV documentary on Shelby Lee Adams’s work photographing his own roots in Appalachia.

I recognized places from my jeep journey through America, visiting craftspeople in Appalachia many years ago. When we speak of American values and the ‘heart and soul of America’, we must include the honorable people of Appalachia.

My most lasting memory of that trip was standing in front of a one-room, cabin library on a winding road to nowhere. The locals were mighty proud of their library, and I was very proud of them and their books.

Shelby Lee Adams Photographing Appalachia

More reading: Bloomerang Lilacs | Long-Lasting Love Affair