The Story of Mom's Lilac

The Story of Mom's Lilac

You may know that Cornell Farm gets its name from the dairy that our family operated on this plot of land for many years, but there are stories behind a few other names that you might not know. This spring, as we prepare for Mother's Day, we thought we would talk about the story behind one of our exclusive plants — the appropriately-named Mom’s Lilac.

Since first opening our doors to the public as a mom-and-pop garden stand, people have consistently asked us about the fragrant lilacs that bloom alongside the Farmhouse around this time every year. Multiple generations of Blatters have lived, worked, and gardened here at the Farm, so it's not surprising that many of the plants dotted in the landscape by our forebears have persisted to this day, but there was always something special about these particular lilacs. So many people inquired about this unique variety that we decided to propagate it for ourselves. And when it came time to give the plant a name, the choice was simple: We wanted to honor someone near and dear to our hearts — the very same woman who planted it.

Margaret Blatter was a lover of flowers and flower arranging, and an all-around amazing woman. To her grandchildren, she was a doting Grammy; to Deby, she was a supportive mother-in-law; but to Ed, she was simply Mom. In the early days of the Nursery, Margaret was there to nurture Cornell Farm through its infancy as she had with her children and grandchildren. She picked daffodils to be sold at the edge of the road, did much of the bookkeeping, and frequently babysat for Ed and Deby while they worked hard to get their new business off the ground. Berkeley, Zoe, and Ranann would tell you that she baked the very best chocolate chip cookies on their many afternoons spent together. And when she wasn't spending time caring for her family, she could often be seen in the garden.

Sometime in the 1960s, Margaret's friend and fellow Cedar Hills Garden Club member, Danny Knispel, had gifted her a rooted start from one of her purple-flowering lilacs. It was a mystery cultivar, but had been growing happily in her garden for decades, and when this small start was planted next to the driveway of our family's Farmhouse, it thrived just as much. Over the years, it grew into a large shrub, but in many regards, it was and is unlike the other lilacs seen around town. It bloomed in late April and early May with blooms of a unique color and fragrance, on multi-stemmed plants that topped out at around eight feet tall.

More than 1,000 varieties of lilacs exist in cultivation, but only 20 or so are widely found in the trade, and we could tell by looking that our lilac wasn't any of those. But before we shared this plant around, we wanted to do a little digging to see if it might be another known variety. We made multiple attempts to attach a name to our plant, going so far as to consult with The Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, WA, but their experts were just as stumped as we were. They agreed that our lilac is, in all likelihood, the offspring of a variety lost to the trade or even a one-of-a-kind sport. And so for many years now, we've been offering clones of our mother plant for sale under the name Mom's Lilac.

Propagating these plants is slow-going, and Ed is currently attempting to air-layer our shrubs to see if we can increase our stock that way. But while we work on perfecting our technique, our original mother plant and the handful of stock plants we have in the landscape are generous enough to produce a few suckers each year that we can offer for sale. Look for limited quantities of Mom's Lilac and Grammy’s Hydrangea — the other one of our heirloom flowering shrubs named after Margaret — at the Nursery starting in the spring. We hope these blooming shrubs can bring others as much joy as they brought to their namesake, whether you encounter them in bloom at the Nursery, in your own garden, or in the garden of anyone else that has taken home a piece of Margaret's memory over the years.