2012-06-23 / News

Jan Young Shares Her Lilac-Growing Expertise During Festival

By James Dau


The Juckette family, Aubrey, Kristen, and Brian, with their transplanted lilacs. “We learned a lot from this,” Mrs. Juckette said, “especially what not to do.” The Juckette family, Aubrey, Kristen, and Brian, with their transplanted lilacs. “We learned a lot from this,” Mrs. Juckette said, “especially what not to do.” Amid all the festivities of the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, the parade, the music, the tours, and pageantry, Jan Young led a series of workshops which focused attention on the festival’s namesake, the lilac. While her husband, Jeff Young, a renowned lilac expert and lilac curator for the University of Vermont, led walking tours of the Island’s many varieties of lilacs while explaining how to properly care for them, Mrs. Young gave visitors to Ste. Anne’s churchyard a more hands-on experience.

“Lilacs aren’t that difficult to grow,” she said, “but most people treat them like any other plant, when they have their own peculiarities that set them apart.”

Beginning Sunday, June 10, and continuing through Friday, June 15, Mrs. Young hosted her workshop for anyone interested in better understanding the shrub.


Jan Young demonstrates how to properly trim a lilac. “Lilacs aren’t that difficult to grow, but most people treat them like any other plant, when they have their own peculiarities that set them apart,” she said. Jan Young demonstrates how to properly trim a lilac. “Lilacs aren’t that difficult to grow, but most people treat them like any other plant, when they have their own peculiarities that set them apart,” she said. “Six years ago, when my husband was leading his walking tours, I saw all these kids being dragged along by their parents,” she told one group. “I thought it would be cool if we could give them their own activity, something that would help them connect with what their parents were so interested in.”

The next year she began her Learn to Grow sessions in Ste. Anne’s churchyard to show children how to plant and care for young lilac plants. The interest in her event, however, went beyond her young audience.

“We decided the next year to open it up to kids of all ages and started seeing a lot of parents, as well as people without any kids in tow, coming to this,” she said.

Mrs. Young greeted visitors to her session from across a white wooden table covered in trays of tiny lilac plants, stacks of paper cups, and bags of rich, dark soil. She guided them through the process of transplanting a young lilac, demonstrating how to loosen its roots and measure out just the right amount of soil into each paper cup before planting the lilac in it. Each attendant was invited to do the same and, under her guidance, children and adults transplanted lilacs, which they were then able to take home. After transplanting, Mrs. Young led her new protégés up the hill toward the back of the churchyard where a series of much older lilacs stand along the fence. There, she showed them how to properly trim and maintain the plants so they might live healthy lives and continue to bloom year after year.

“On these older plants, you have to cut the whole green growth down to the stem,” she explained as she lopped off a now-brown flower with her clippers. “That way, the plant will bloom there again next year. If you don’t, it will be at least a couple years before you see flowers there again.”

Throughout her session, Mrs. Young imparted her intimate knowledge of lilacs to the people she was helping, explaining the intricacies of the plant’s needs as well as debunking a wide array of misinformation about their care and upkeep.

“You don’t have to fertilize lilacs,” she told those in her Friday session. “Occasionally, you can spread ground hardwood bark mulch around their base. Their surroundings need to mimic the forest floor, that’s all.”

She went on to explain that lilacs need both sunlight and air, and that they should be trimmed so as to create enough space for both to find their way into the interior of the plant. She also stressed the importance of protecting lilac roots, as they are shallow and far-reaching, and, if exposed, are vulnerable to both wind and salt.

“Beyond that, though, lilacs are very durable,” she said. “I’ve even seen them run over by lawn mowers and grow right back, though I wouldn’t recommend that.”

People came to Mrs. Young’s workshop not only to hear what she had to say about the plants, but also to find answers to their particular struggles with their own lilacs. They came with all manner of questions, ranging from how to prune the branches and shape the plant to why their plants were not blooming.

“Lilacs don’t start to bloom until their fourth year,” Mrs. Young explained to one concerned visitor, “and they don’t come into their full flower until their fifth.”

Kristen Juckette said, freshlytransplanted lilac in hand, said she appreciated the instruction.

“We needed to learn a little more about our lilacs at home,” she said. “We learned a lot from this, especially what not to do.”

Mrs. Young demonstrates one of the 2,000 varieties of lilac each year, with this year’s being the Josee variety.

“It’s an everbloom, which means it blooms three to four times each year,” she said, “and its flowers are this very beautiful bright pink color. They’re very hardy, too.”

As a member of the International Lilac Society, Mrs. Young receives 1,000 young lilac plants each year from Briggs Nursery for educational purposes.

“People need to know that there’s more to these plants than just digging a hole in the ground and putting them in it,” she said. “They’re not inanimate things. It’s important to develop a caring relationship with the plant.”

It is this passion for lilacs that brings the Youngs back to Mackinac Island every year.

“This is my vacation week,” said Mrs. Young, a 30-year veteran of the Department of Homeland Security. “Tending these plants is very ethereal. It doesn’t matter what kind of day you had. When you go out and start taking care of them, it all melts away.”

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