Lilac time has come early this year, and thanks to bright sunshine, cool nights, and a lack of rain, the flowers are looking and smelling wonderful. If, like me, you have opted to spend your life driving around the suburbs of a dull market town, there are few plants for which you will be more grateful. A big sprawling old-fashioned white or dark lilac tree is a marvellous sight, until the flowers start browning off. In Chekhov, their scent is ever-present in narratives of the Russian countryside and the awakenings and disappointments of love.
The common lilac is indeed one of the best shrubs for the Russian climate, imperturbably hardy and bred into innumerable lovely cultivars, many of them still rare in Western Europe. But small gardens with little space for large shrubs may pass these over in favour of the smaller species, of which lacianiata (formerly afghanica) carries the advantage of beautiful cut leaves as well as profuse scented flowers. I think it is time lilacs became fashionable again.