Life in a big city brings out the lilac lust in me

I am breathing a sigh of relief. The season of my temptation is nearly done and I leave it with almost a clear conscience.

I have pinched but one wee lilac blossom.

So delicate.

Sadly, as is the case with most crimes and misdemeanors, my petty thievery did little to assuage my obsession. While I only broke the commandment, thou shall not steal, but once, I have lived the past month in a perpetual state of sin: I have coveted my neighbour’s lilac bush.

Lilacs in spring. What could be better?

It’s worse than that. I have coveted every lilac bush I’ve encountered in this great city of flowering shrubs. My itchy fingers have taken my mind off my itchy nose (for it is also the season of allergies), replacing one discomfort for another.

I suffer, it seems, from lilac lust, which casts a blight over these lovely shrubs every bit as damaging as the rust that sometimes eats away at their leaves.  I’m so consumed by my desire for lilacs that they’ve become something of an obsession.  I think about stealing all the time.

Mostly I have been in my car when I spot a buxom bush draping itself over a fence, tantalizing me with the thought that its blooms aren’t exactly on private property.  Surely what overhangs a sidewalk could be considered free for the picking.

I am not sure, however, if the big-city residents of Toronto are inclined to share their lilacs. Back in the Maritimes, I’d have knocked on a stranger’s door to beg a bloom or two. It’s not quite so friendly here.

I drive by several well-established lilac bushes every day on my way home from work. They flank a highway underpass, and so, I am sure, belong to no one but the province, which really means, as a taxpaying citizen, they belong to me.

I eye the blooms as my car idles in traffic, wondering if the red light will last long enough for me to dash out of my car, snatch a bloom or two, then beat a hasty retreat. I have not yet mustered up the courage to put my life at quite that kind of risk.

Even when they are starting to fade, lilacs are still lovely.

The one small blossom I snitched was growing on a university campus. I’d pinched it before I even allowed myself to think about what I was doing. But I knew I was taking something that wasn’t really mine and hid it in my purse until I got to my car.

I loved it for a week.  And then, of course, it died.

It seems I am not the only person who suffers from lilac lust. I confessed my condition to my sister-in-law this past weekend and she immediately admitted to harbouring similar thoughts as she drives through the streets of well-heeled Oakville.

We’ve now led her daughter down the garden path. After overhearing our conversation, she left the house for a while, then returned as if from a recognizance mission.  “I spotted some lilacs I think you could pick,” she told us. And we all wondered if they belonged to anyone who would notice if they went missing.

Were I still living in New Brunswick, the thought of stealing lilacs would not be an issue for me. I had a variety of bushes planted around my house in Riverview and I could pick as many blooms as I wanted every day of lilac season.

White lilacs don’t tempt me as much as their mauve cousins.

My favourite blooms came from a fat old broad of a bush, who’d likely lived longer on the property than any of its human residents.  She must have been more than 100 years old.

Over the years, my neighbour started a row of the old broad’s offspring along our property line. A lilac hedge will eventually span the distance between the houses, a much friendlier boundary line than a fence.

I planted an elegant French lady of a lilac against the gardening shed. Following the fashion sense of Paris, she never overdid herself, offering only a few blooms each season, but what blooms they were. Each deep purple petal was etched in white piping. And her perfume was to die for.

A late blooming Japanese lilac at the front of the house kept the season going for me well into summer, but had neither the scent nor the beauty of her early spring cousins. Still, she satisfied my addiction until the poppies and peonies arrived and distracted me.

This lilac is just a memory for me now.

I am fully aware that my current waywardness must cease.  It is a good thing that the blossoms have started to turn brown around the edges, their sweet scent fading. A lilac bush without its blooms seems more like a weed. (Thankfully my addiction does not extend to actual contraband plants.)

I think I satisfied my cravings one evening this week when I took a stroll through the park near my Toronto home.  I spent an hour nosing about a lilac bush that grows there, capturing the blooms on my camera, fingering the petals, breathing in her sweet perfume.

So cheerful, these purple clusters.

Visiting a bush is not quite like having a big jug of lilacs in my living room. But it will have to do. As much as I love lilacs, I’ve no time for a life of crime.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at and follower her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon

10 thoughts on “Life in a big city brings out the lilac lust in me

  1. My favorite time of year as a child in Montreal was when the lilacs bloomed 🙂

  2. We have lilacs all around the school here and the staff picks them freely. There are also several bushes in front of our apartment and I often see people plucking them.
    I enjoyed feeling your emotions of longing, as these remind me of home where I have a huge bush, more like a tree.

  3. I too love lilacs. Wish you were close enough to give you a shoot for your balcony garden. Ours are spreading and overtaking the walkway! But they are not yet in bloom, so come “home” and enjoy lilacs again this season.

  4. I wish you were my neighbor. You could knock on my door and I would be happy to let you cut some blossoms.

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