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Backyard getaway to Lilac Day at Arnold Arboretum

Its Lilac Day at the Arnold Arboretum.
©Stillman Rogers Photography 2010

Of all of the plants and trees at the Arnold Arboretum only one is singled out each year to be honored with a special day. The lilac has had a special place in New England since colonial times. The lilacs growing at the Governor Benning Wentworth House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, are believed to be the oldest in North America. They were planted in 1750.

May 11, a special day for a special flower

The Arnold Arboretum has an extensive collection of lilacs including most of the well known varieties and other less well known. While the common lilac is believed to have originated in Eastern Europe, many of the best known varieties come from China or other locations in Asia.

New England is a particularly good place for lilacs because of the extremes of its temperatures. While plants such as rosemary can’t take the extreme cold in New England, lilac needs it to make its buds burst forth. The warming breezes of spring snap it from its dormancy in time to verify that spring is really here.

The beginning of the Arnold Arboretum collection of lilacs actually pre-dates the institution itself, having been planted by a previous owner of the property in about 1806. Since the opening of the arboretum in 1872 many more varietals have been added and the collection now amounts to 370 plants of 176 varieties.

Opening of Lilac day

This year Lilac Day is May 11. The arboretum opens from dawn to dusk but the lilac festivities are scheduled between 10 AM and 3 PM. Activities scheduled for the day include lilac tours, family oriented activities and special food vendors. Make a day of it and pack a picnic lunch to bring along. Parking at the arboretum is limited but it is easily reachable via public transportation.

Getting there

Take the T. Take the Orange line to the end. At the turnstiles turn left and take the exit marked for the Arboretum. After 60 feet turn left and continue of the Arborway up a hill, look for the gate on the left. By bus take the No. 39 bus to Custer Street stop in Jamaica Plain, go back to Custer Street and turn left. At the end of the street the Arboretum will be ahead of you, its entrance across the street and to the right.

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