It is impossible to separate Lombard from its lilacs. For almost a century we have been identified with them as much as Milwaukee with beer and Corning with glass. The horticultural heritage that we now enjoy, has its origins in Asia Minor. Long admired by the native inhabitants, it was Busbecquis, the ambassador of the Imperial Hapsburgs to the Turkish Sultan that first cultivated them and brought them to Vienna. From Imperial Austria the syringia vulgaris spread to France and eventually to North America.
Lombard owes its Collection to Col. William Plum and his wife Helen Maria Williams Plum. The Colonel was born in Massillon, Stark County Ohio on March 24, 1845. After service in the Civil War as a Master Telegrapher he entered Yale Law School in 1865 and married Helen Williams in 1867.
In 1869 he left the East and traveled to Chicago where he hoped to practice law. After a short stay there he decided to investigate other areas, and by chance traveled to the new village of Lombard, formerly known as Babcock’s Grove. He purchased land on the corner of Park and Maple. The estate would eventually be known as Lilacia, the Latin term for lilac. The Plums’ became enamored with lilacs while taking the Grand Tour of Europe and visiting the famous gardens of Victor Lemoine (1823-1911), in Nancy, France.
After touring the arboretum, the Plums purchased two lilacs, Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme Casimir Périer’, a double white, and Syringa vulgaris ‘Michel Buchner’, a double lilac color. The present collection of lilacs in Lilacia begins with these two cultivars.
On March 25, 1924 Helen Plum passed away and the Colonel, as he was still known affectionately, lost interest in his lilacs and his estate. He offered the collection for sale and also to Joy Morton. Good fortune smiled on Lombard when both situations failed to become reality. It was Morton that told the Colonel that the collection had become so much a part of Lombard that they should remain there, and not at Thornhill Farm, now known as the Morton Arboretum.
Colonel Plum passed away on April 28, 1927 and it is because of the Plums’ extraordinary generosity and public spirit that we in Lombard have the most unique park in DuPage County. In paragraph nine of his will, the Colonel states that the land be given to the people of Lombard as a public park, and in the memory of his wife, their house be given as a “free public library and reading rooms.”
In September of 1927 the people of Lombard voted to accept the stipulations as set down by Colonel Plum and the Lombard Park District came to be. The famous landscape architect Jens Jensen was commissioned by the Park District to design what was called the Lombard Community Garden, now known throughout the area as Lilacia Park.
Below are helpful links for Lilac owners:
- The International Lilac Society
- Old Farmer’s Almanac
- Gardening Know How
- The Gardener’s Network
- Morton Arboretum: Plant Advice and Clinic
- Chicago Botanic Garden
- University of Illinois Extension: “Growing Lilacs” by Sandra Mason, Extension Education, Horticulture