I grew up surrounded by lilacs; my father and brother had poured a concrete patio beside the house; it was under the shade of a huge weeping willow and protected on two sides by stands of lilacs. Well over 8 feet high even when weighed down with great clusters of purple flowers, on warm summer nights they filled the night air with an incredible scent – slightly reminiscent of the perfume my Grandmother favoured.
They also seemed to attract a great number of mosquitoes who felt that my person was the best dining venue in Alderwood. When I would come in – on those nights I was allowed to stay out with the family enjoying the night air – I would be covered in mosquito bites which then called for an application of a bit of lather from a bar of Lifeboy soap. In those days Lifeboy was a carbolic soap with a mild anti-bacterial power and, as far as I was concerned great healing powers – it did seem to take the sting out of those pesky bites. The fragrance of lilac mingled with the smell of carbolic soap is the Proustian Madeline of my childhood.
Fast forward to our first house in Hunt Club. It was a garden home with a patch of yard bounded by three townhouse walls and a cedar fence. It was basically hard clay, scrub grass and a small – almost Lilliputian – stone patio. But in the corner stood a lovely Persian lilac it was festooned with fragrant white blossoms. It was almost 12 feet high and by the time we moved out seven years later it was two stories high. But it almost wouldn’t have had that chance to grow if one person – who shall remain nameless – had followed through on the plan to cut it down! Fortunately clearer minds – mine said he modestly – prevailed and it became a integral part of my small garden. Hostas, lily of the valley and Solomon seals shared its shade with a cedar deck. The rest of the garden was dotted with fox gloves, bergamot, daisies, campanella and a lovely hardy President Kekkonen rose bush surrounded a small waterfall illuminated by a stone Japanese lantern. The background was a cedar fence covered with Virginia creeper which glowed bright red in the waning days of fall. When I think back on those days in Hunt Club I hear the sounds of the waterfall, the glow of the lantern and the scent of lilac. Of all the gardens I have had I think it was that one that I created from clay and scrub that gave me the most pleasure and contentment.
All this to introduce today’s flower – the lilac. Perhaps its just me being sentimental but I think Grandeville captured the very essence of that most gentle – but hardy – of flowers perfectly.
Someone was asking why I show multiple versions of the same print? These were engravings that were coloured by hand and so from copy to copy there is a variation – sometimes in colouring, sometimes in shading, often in clarity because of differences in technique. I find that often details missed in one can be found an another. And also give the age of the books these were taken from and the care given to them by the owners – some may be faded or discoloured which gives them, I think at least, an added dimension.
25 May – 1895: Playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde is convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.