2018-06-09 / News

Lilacs Bloom Just in Time for Festival Tours, Planting Workshops

By Marley Tucker


Horticulturist Jeff Young, a member of the International Lilac Society, visits Mackinac Island every year during the Lilac Festival to lead his Walk and Talk with Lilacs tours. One favorite stop is this group of lilacs on Market Street. (Town Crier photograph from 2017 tour) Horticulturist Jeff Young, a member of the International Lilac Society, visits Mackinac Island every year during the Lilac Festival to lead his Walk and Talk with Lilacs tours. One favorite stop is this group of lilacs on Market Street. (Town Crier photograph from 2017 tour) Lilacs aren’t native to Mackinac Island, but have thrived in a soil mixture so hospitable that many of them live far longer that than those in most other places. Some of the abundant lilac trees and bushes here are more than 130 years old.

Those are among the facts participants can learn from horticulturist Jeff Young, on his lilac walking tours that have become a key component of the Lilac Festival, this year from Friday, June 8, through Sunday, June 17. Mr. Young has led the walks for 14 years. His wife, Jan, previously held pruning and planting seminars at Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church, but is unable to attend the festival this year.


Fragrant lilacs reach over the fence at Lilac House Bed and Breakfast on Market Street, greeting passersby. Fragrant lilacs reach over the fence at Lilac House Bed and Breakfast on Market Street, greeting passersby. Mr. Young begins each tour at the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau office, heads down Market Street toward Marquette Park, and concludes the walk at Ste. Anne’s Church. He is an instructor and volunteer at the University of Vermont’s horticulture farm in South Burlington, a member of the International Lilac Society, and has been coming to Mackinac Island since 2005. Mrs. Young also is a volunteer at the university.

The International Lilac Society is a group of lilac enthusiasts from all over the world who share information and plants. There are many types of lilacs, but Island visitors perhaps are most familiar with Syringa vulgaris, or common lilac.

Lilacs are exotic to the United States, originating in the mountains of China and Korea. The common lilac comes from Eastern Europe, brought to North America as prized personal possessions by European immigrants. The British brought most of the lilacs to Mackinac Island when they commanded Fort Mackinac during the Revolutionary War and the first 15 years of American independence in the late 18th century. Mr. Young said many believe the first lilacs came with farmers who provided food for Fort Mackinac.

In a typical lilac walk, free to participants, Mr. Young provides a wealth of information about Island lilac history and the science behind their proliferation here. He likes to refer to Mackinac Island as “the Lilac Garden of Eden.” A high point of the walk is historic Grand Cottage, where an old common lilac is as tall as the full three stories of the federalist-style white clapboard-sided structure.

Island lilac colors range from creamy Madame Lemoine to blue President Lincolns and pink Elizabeth varieties. The Island is home to all 23 lilac species, around 400 varieties, and thousands of individual plants that were planted over decades. In June, and even into July, lilac flowers bloom and give off what many people consider a signature Mackinac Island fragrance.

The Youngs have visited the Island each June during the Lilac Festival to lead the informative lilac walks and workshops. Since his wife cannot attend this year, Mr. Young will teach participants how to plant and care for lilacs in the yard at Ste. Anne’s Church. Times for both programs fluctuate throughout the festival, so check the official schedule published elsewhere in this paper to attend.

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