World’s Largest Lilac Collection (not at our house)

Set in the Arboretum of Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens, the Lilac Dell is bursting with early blooms in 2010, due to the unseasonably warm spring.

The RBG boasts the largest collection of lilacs in the world, 800 species and varieties from around the world. At dusk, apparently the best time to bring your nose to a lilac, the perfume is cupped in the bowl of the dell like an offering. We recommend you inhale.

So many specimens are here, that the differences between them can be slight to the untrained eye. But all are labelled, and the interpretive walk at the entrance features informative signage.

That’s how we learned, for example, that the lilac’s colour and fragrance can depend on the previous summer’s weather, as that is when lilacs set their buds. Too hot or too wet, and the fragrance will suffer. So it’s possible that the 2010 vintage isn’t the best year.

Sarah was on the hunt for the definitive “grape-popsicle” shade of dark purple. I was just there to enjoy.

Both of us chose to visit the RBG rather than a garden centre, as has been our Mother’s Day tradition for many years, so that we could remove ourselves from plant-buying temptation. It worked!

And it might be the beginning of a whole new tradition, starting next year.

The lilacs in this post, from top to bottom, include: the pretty-in-pink Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’,  the double white and nicely fragrant S. vulgaris ‘McMaster Centennial’, the pretty-close-to-grape-popsicle purple S. vulgaris ‘Znamya Lemina’ silhouetted against the white of a massive, native Cornus florida, and the dainty and fragrant double pink S. oblata dilatata hybrid ‘Annabel’.


  1. Helen, I love the scent of lilacs; and I'm waiting for the right moment to visit a garden nearby that is known locally for its lilac collection. Lilacs are early here this year, too. -Jean

  2. Hi Helen – what a great way to spend Mother's Day (and a lot cheaper than the garden centres). I was wondering if the blooms were out yet. Stuck on a 3 week business trip – by the time I get back the 1st week of June they will probably be done. Thanks for sharing them with those of us who won't get there.

  3. Your post reminds me that I've been meaning to get down to the local lilac garden here at Manito park. Maybe this year I'll actually make it!

  4. There is nothing like lilacs! Here in Massachusetts we have the Arnold Arboretum and Lilac Sunday, but I only have to go to my neighbor's garden where he has 70 lilacs – and is willing to give away roots! I like visiting all that neighbor's collections beginning with the 400 rhodies and 100 peonies. What a guy.

  5. You should take a drive down to Rochester, NY, to see Highland Park's lilac collection. Not as large as RBG, but largest in US. Annual festival starts May 10 this year, and runs 10 days. (You might need a passport, border security has gotten stupi… er, tight.)

    1. Yes, I've heard about Rochester's lilacs – one day I'd love to see/smell them. And, yes, a passport is required (or a Nexus card). I'm old enough to remember the days of our friendly, more or less open border, when all you needed to cross was a driver's license!

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