Lilacia Park

I have to smell the lilacs in May. It reminds me of Mom and Dad. After living in Downers Grove for over 30 years, I had no idea that I could smell the flowers at a historical park in Lombard, a neighboring suburb, only 15 minutes away. A friend had posted about her field trip to Lilacia Park on Facebook so I took a morning trip there last Sunday. It was the perfect day for the weather and photographs. A beautiful walk! Lilacia Park, an 8.5-acre garden, is located at 150 South Park Avenue, Lombard, Illinois. Yes, I could smell the lilacs but I didn’t think about the past, but the elegance of the moment.

Lilacia Park is aworld-renown horticultural showcase that features over 700 lilacs and 35,000 tulips annually. In 2019, the park was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its significant contribution to horticultural history in the United States. Lilacia Park is most recognized for being home to Lombard Lilac Time, a blooming festival happening during the first two weeks of May. Col. William Plum and his wife Helen Maria Williams Plum traveled to Chicago in 1869, where he wanted to practice, but also investigated areas outside of the city. One was the new village of Lombard which had been known as Babcock Grove.

He purchased land on the corner of Park and Maple. The estate would eventually be known as Lilacia, the Latin term for lilac. The couple had taken a tour to France and visited the famous gardens of Victor Lemoine where they fell in love with the lilacs. They bought the first two after touring the Arboretum. Helen passed away in 1924 and the Colonel lost interest in the estate. He tried to sell it to Joy Morton. It was Morton that told the Colonel that the collection had become so much a part of Lombard that they should remain there, and not at Thornhill Farm, now known as the Morton Arboretum. The Colonel passed away in 1927 and in his will, he dedicates the gardens to Lombard requesting it to become a public park. The home was used as a small library but was demolished when a new library opened in 1963, still dedicated to Helen Plum.

The park is open all year. Lilacia Park hosts many special events each year, including the Mutt Strut Annual 5K & 1-Mile, Movies & Concerts in the Park, Jingle Bell Jubilee, Holiday Lights, and more. Host your wedding at Lilacia Park!

It looks like a lilac to me

During the spring, it stood in the east outdoor corner of my childhood yard. Probably the most healthy of the plants that grew there. I couldn’t wait for my Mom to cut a large bunch, wrap them in tin foil during Springs mornings before school and give them to my favorite teachers; usually for my kindergarten, first grade and my fourth grade.

Then, I had no idea that the elegant smelling lavender lilacs would not last very long. Old Moms did not know the tricks in getting the beautiful fragrance to last more than a day.

Even when I became a Mom, I did not have a lilac bush at home so I would steal my neighbors lilacs at night. He was a great, longtime friend watching his tree dwindle but never said a word. I scattered them in vases throughout the house knowing not to send them to school with my little ones. Not because they were stolen…but knowing they would fade quickly.  My own children didn’t seem to be that interested anyway in brightening their teachers day with flowers from the garden.

My neighbor moved and I was scared to steal anymore so I  planted a lilac tree in our backyard. As it grew, my developing children pressed their noses into the tree while filling my vases inside and out.

However, I still liked my neighbors tree better; the fragrance was more overpowering reminding me of my youth. Occasionally, after many years, I will race down the street with scissors in hand when no one is watching.

Helping lilacs live longer:

If you want to give it a try, take a cutting from a healthy lilac and place the stem in a clear or amber glass or jar with 1 to 2 inches of water. Be sure to strip the leaves from the part of the stem that will be in the water to keep the cutting from rotting. Add fresh water as needed.

Though she did not know my love for lilacs, a first grader gave me one of the best handmade flower that looks like a lilac to me! That especially reminds me of the gratitude towards teachers that is still expressed and appreciated today. Thankfully those virtues remain.

I will be sure to wrap my flower carefully…maybe in tin foil….and take home from school to celebrate my summer vacation. The flower can sit beside me in a protected vase during the early months of summer while I lounge outside………under my lilac tree.