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UPDATE: Tis the season for New Hampshire's State Flower -- the lilacs bloom

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Revisiting the topic first posted in 2011, the lilacs at last "in the dooryard [have] bloomed."

Lilacs, the New Hampshire State Flower, are blooming late this year after a long winter and a spring delayed by cool rain and mists. But now the sun is out and the lilacs in every shade of purple as well as sweet-smelling white are in full bloom. The best place to view them is the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth, a New Hampshire State Park, and the reputed source of all lilacs in the New World.

The story goes that Benning Wentworth, the English Royal Governor of the New Hampshire colony, was attracted to the regal purple lilac that graced the stately homes of England and had them imported around 1750. Planting the lilacs around his ever-expanding home they added a delicate fringe and soft scent to the air as he entertained the guests who would travel out from Portsmouth on the tide and then stay as house guests (hence the odd architecture of burgeoning bedrooms) if the wine or the tide get ahead of them.

Horticulturists agreed that the oldest of the lilacs at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion do date from the mid-18th century. Although the hardy strain did well in New England, spreading from clippings shared with equally-interested gardeners. Sadly the Wentworth lilacs have been affected by an invasive fungus and a major restoration project is now underway. The difficulties prevent the park from holding its usual Lilac Festival this year.

Still in gardens, on country roads, surrounding cemeteries filled with ancient stones and near old cellar holes deep along wooded paths, the lilacs bloom It is somewhat fitting that this year the lilacs are late. Many recall Whitman’s poem about “lilacs in the dooryard” that was written in eulogy for Abraham Lincoln, the “great doop’d star” assassinated in April of 1865 (in Washington DC, where the lilacs do bloom that early). Still in 2014, lilacs on Memorial Day weekend are a fitting remembrance on another year of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Once again “mourned on the ever-returning spring.”


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