Cutting Lilac Bushes? Use Them in Decor and Drinks Too!

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By Jill Brooke

It has been written that unicorns wanted to be around lilacs. No surprise really.

As Stevie Smith once said, “Nothing is more wistful than the scent of lilac, nor more robust than its woody stalk. For we must remember that it is a tree as well as a flower.”

Lilacs are also so versatile and one of the first flowers that are available after tulips are wilting and saying good-bye and daffodils have lost its color and vibrancy. Neither of those flowers has the fragrance that revives us with the promise of not only spring but summer blooms.

My friend Carolyne Roehm created a floral arrangement where she added peonies. Roses and anemones are also perfect companions.

Lilacs grow easily and are an ideal cut flower. This flower can be paired with almost anything and add that special wow factor – especially when their signature fragrance wafts through the room.

I also love purple toile fabrics as well as lavender-colored tableware as shown above. Because of the specialness of the color, it can update a style that can be labeled old-fashioned and give it a boost of flair.

But for the final touch, you need to have lilacs in a vase so here are tips for growing, cutting and displaying lilacs.

Growing Lilacs

Lilac is a tree that likes a little cold weather and is easy to plant. It grows best in a location that receives full sun for six to eight hours and has fertile well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH level.

The best time to plant is in late fall before the ground freezes. Can you plant in spring? Yes, but you will have it water it if it gets too warm.

The variety above is called “Sensation” and was given to me by Carolyne.  We both love how it is etched in white. Another more popular brand is Yankee Doodle Dandy. There are many varieties to choose from and have fun choosing one for you.  I have both white and purple lilac trees scattered throughout my garden.


1. Cut lilacs in the early morning or late afternoon

2. Make sure you cut them at an angle and QUICKLY put them in prepared water with floral preservative. That means having a bucket ready.

3. Lilacs don’t like direct sunlight and prefer cool temperatures. One noted expert suggested putting them in the fridge at night to prolong them but who has that much room in the fridge? But if you do – go for it.

4. After bringing them inside, you need to smash the woody stems to put it not so delicately. Some suggest cutting the stems with an x- or slicing stem 1/4 inch. What do I do? I take a back of a knife or hammer and smash it and then put it in water so it can drink happily. Easy peasy.

5. If you don’t have available preservatives, make it at home with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a 1/4 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. The lemon juice is optional.

6. Another good tip is that when you cut the lilacs from the bush, try to reach the tippy-top of the bush. This is a form of pruning. By cutting the top flowers – which people rarely make the effort to do – you create a chubbier bush which produces more gorgeous lilacs to enjoy.

7. Manage expectations. These flowers don’t last long. Even the uber-optimists say it is only 4 to 5 days. Some suggest cutting longer branches so you can change the water every day and then trim the branch for a longer life span as you change water. Since we’re realists, I still say that expect no more than 3 days before the flower shrivels like a prune. However, you will have three magical days of heavenly scents in the room.

And let’s say you are annoyed that the lilac experience didn’t last long. Well, we have a solution. Create a lilac cocktail.

Created by Caroline Dexter, a garden and art teacher, this cocktail is “a drink for a goddess.”  Sip it and think of carpe diem – seize the day for pleasures when they happen and then repurpose the flowers for this elixir.


Please note that “the trick is NOT to over boil it. Heat just enough to release the lilac scent.”

First, make Lilac Simple Syrup

1cup water

1cup sugar

1cup lilac blooms (no greens)

6 or so blueberries for color

Bring water and sugar to a boil, stir and dissolve sugar. Add blueberries until the desired color. Add lilacs and count to 25-30 while stirring. Remove from heat and strain right away. Cool and refrigerate. It is so important not to overheat the blooms, as your mixture will turn floral to earthy. I had to experiment with this twice before I got it down. Now onto the cocktail.

Lilac Cocktail

1oz Lilac Simple Syrup

1oz Gin

1oz Vodka

Splash of lemon

Splash of sparkling water.

Shake and serve over ice. Absolute magic in a glass. Enjoy


Photo Credit: Pixabay first image, Carolyne Roehm, Pixabay


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