The Scent of Lilacs


The scent of lilacs preceded my husband’s entrance into the kitchen, as he returned from the farmer’s market with two bunches of lilacs in his hand. I immediately buried my nose in their voluptuous flowers. I was flooded with a delight that dated back to childhood, when I’d discovered a large vacant lot that was ringed with old lilac trees.  They were the sentinels of this long forgotten homestead, its home long gone, but it’s blossoms keeping watch and reappearing each spring as a reminder that someone lived here once upon a time and no doubt loved these flowers as much as I did.

During my middle childhood years, their scent drifted to greet me each May, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, when I’d arrive to pick as large a bunch as I could manage to carry home. I anticipated the pleasure of this day all year. The timing never failed. Tucked  in between the standard lilac trees, were a few trees of the rarer white lilac and several bushes of French lilac that were a deeper raspberry purple with a more intense fragrance.  lilac tree

Their woody stems snapped easily in my hands making them very easy to pick.  It was always a challenge to know when to stop picking and pull away.  I’d decide I had enough, then return to pick yet more.  Just one more piece of candy. Not only was their pale lavender color a favorite of mine, but their deep green heart -shaped leaves set the flowered cones off to perfection.

I always expected someone to appear to chase me away, but no one ever did.  There was added delight in this, making it my own secret stash. It seemed as if I was the only one who knew or cared about their existence.  I easily convinced myself that the lilacs  were waiting for me each year to revel in their beauty.


I’d somehow manage to get my foraged treasure home and then fill most of my Mother’s antique china and glass vases with water and thirsty lilacs. I’d carefully carry each vase down a long flight of cellar stairs where they’d rest until it was time for me to bring them upstairs to usher in Mother’s Day. My Mother always seemed pleased with my efforts, never questioning where I’d gotten them. The flowers would fill our house with fragrance for a few wonderful days.  Like cherry blossoms, their life is fleeting.

Adding to the lilac overload, each spring into summer my Mother wore a cologne called White Lilac , created in 1932 by Mary Chess.  It was the perfect dusty, romantic, evocative scent that children love to have their mothers wear.  When the time came to sell the house,there was still an old bottle of White Lilac on her chest of drawers that had to be disposed of. That was one of the hardest items for me to throw out, but it was decades past prime time.

white lilac

Lilac perfumes went out of popularity decades ago, so although I searched, I never could find anything that measured up to White Lilac, until about 4 years ago. I was browsing through the perfume counter at Barney’s in LA when a saleswoman asked if she could help me.  Just so she’d leave me alone, I inquired if she had anything with a lilac scent.  She immediately picked up a bottle of French cologne that was directly in front of me called en passage.  It stopped me in my tracks. It was waiting for me.  I’d never spent so much money on a bottle of cologne, but there it was and I had to have it.  I’ve almost emptied it, even though I wear it only in the spring.  The pleasure it brings me is worth every dollar I paid.

If only this blog had a widget for scratch and sniff!