Monge Purple LilacSyringa vulgaris ‘Monge’
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Syringa vulgaris ‘Monge’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Monge Lilac grows into a rounded deciduous shrub, reaching 10 to 12 feet tall and wide. It has mid-green heart-shaped leaves and blooms in late spring with a magnificent display of rich purple blossoms. The color is warm, with a touch of red, and the flowers are carried in large bunches, up to 9 inches long. The blooms fill the garden with a wonderful fragrance, attracting butterflies and even hummingbirds. Grow it as the background to your shrub beds, as a lawn specimen or among small trees.
A spot in full sun is best for the Monge Lilac, which will also take a little shade, but not too much, or flowering will be reduced. It grows in most soils, including clays and alkaline ones, but not in wet, soggy ground. Enrich the soil and mulch with organic material, and water as needed for the best results. Remove spent flower heads as soon as they fade, to encourage next year’s blooms. Tough enough to deal with pests or diseases, and usually untouched by deer, this is an easy plant that anyone can grow.
‘Lilac’ is not just a plant, but a color too. You can wear a lilac dress, and we know it will be a lighter purple, with a bluish tint to it. Lilac flowers, on the other hand, come in many colors, not just ‘lilac’, and one of the most admired colors is rich purple. If you, like so many other gardeners, admire and covet those rich purple lilacs, then you should be growing the Monge Lilac, because ‘purple’ is its middle name. The huge columns of blossom make a stunning show in late spring, and their glorious purple coloring, warmed with dark red, really pops. Of course, being a French lilac, it has the rich perfume we expect from lilac blossoms, and the nostalgic air of an heirloom plant – which it is, stretching back over 100 years to the peak years of lilac breeding, when the Lemoine nursery in France was releasing new beauties year on year. You don’t need a feeling for history, though, to appreciate the Monge Lilac, just a love of beauty – and what gardener doesn’t have that?
The Monge Lilac is an upright deciduous shrub, growing 10 to 12 feet tall and a similar width across. It can be kept bushy, or trimmed up into a small multi-stem tree. The smooth gray bark becomes more rugged and dark brown-gray on the older stems. The handsome leaves are heart-shaped, and 3 to 5 inches long, with a slightly glossy surface and a mid-green coloring.
Blooms open in April to May, depending on your zone, coming after spring bulbs but before roses, which is another reason to grow this bush, to bridge that gap in your flower display. In colder climates in particular, ‘lilac season’ is eagerly anticipated, showing that winter is finally behind you. The flowers are carried in large clusters of many blooms, like fat, slightly-tapering columns as much as 9 inches long. Each one carries hundreds of small individual flowers, each with four petals. The buds are a dark purple-red, opening to a slightly lighter shade, and blooms last 3 or 4 weeks, fading a little to a pinker tone as they finally age. You don’t even need to get very close before you are filled with the delicious sweet fragrance the blooms release, and it all adds to the sensual experience in admiring this bush. The scent also attracts pollinators and butterflies, and even hummingbirds.
Grow this useful shrub towards the back of your shrub borders, with smaller shrubs in front. Use it on the sunny side of your home to cover a blank wall, or on the boundary line, as a beautiful property marker. Grow it on a lawn, trimmed up into a small tree, or on the sunny side of a wooded area. It is only honest to say that after blooming, lilac bushes are a bit boring, so plant them with other, later-blooming shrubs to keep the area interesting, or grow summer-blooming plants like Clematis or morning glory up into them.
One reason lilacs are so loved is that they grow and bloom reliably in the coldest parts of the country, all through zones 2 and 3. They also grow in warmer areas, but not past zone 7, when winters become too short and warm for them to mature their flower buds properly, and summers too hot.
Your Monge Lilac will grow best in full sun, although it will still grow in a little partial shade, but bloom a little less. This tough plant tolerates most soil types, including heavy clays and alkaline soils, but it won’t do well in soggy, always-wet ground. It prefers moist, relatively rich soils, so add plenty of organic material when planting and as regular mulch.
Most of the problems that lilacs suffer from come from neglect. Mulch and occasional summer watering, even with established plants, makes a big difference, but overall the Monge Lilac needs very little care. If you do one thing, make it removing the flower heads once they have finished blooming. Snip them off just above the leaves, or trim back a little to keep the plant bushier. Don’t prune later, and don’t try to trim it into a neat hedge, as this will prevent flowering. Removing the old flowers prevents seeding, which removes a lot of strength from the bush, so that it doesn’t make so many flower buds. Deer usually leave lilac bushes alone, which is a big plus in rural areas.
The common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, can be found growing in mountainous areas throughout south-eastern Europe and over to the Black Sea. It came to America with the early settlers, and we have records of it in Portsmouth, New Hampshire from the 1600s. It grows so well in the moderate climate of that state, they made it their state flower, even though it isn’t native.
The type of lilacs we admire most are the French lilacs, which were created by Victor Lemoine at his nursery in Nancy, France, mostly in the late 19th century. He and his wife created hundreds, and transformed the lilac into the bush of giant flower heads we know today. Many are double, with extra petals in each flower, but some, like the variety called ‘Monge’ have single flowers and are still outstandingly beautiful. The variety was released in 1913, so it was probably created by Victor Lemoine’s son, Émile, since Victor died in 1911. The name is likely a tribute to Gaspard Monge, a French mathematician and education reformer, who lived in the 18th century.
Make your garden a balance between the new and the old – and remember that heirloom varieties like this have proved their worth over the decades. Everyone loves lilacs, and purple is a classic color for them, so this variety is always a big seller. Order now while we still have it available.