How to visit the hidden Idyllwild Lilac Garden

Amazingly, it’s May and one way or the other we’re getting ready to summer season, a time when flowers — and flower exhibits — are blooming profusely round Southern California.

If you don’t thoughts slightly drive, take a day journey to Idyllwild to wander Gary Parton’s colourful and aromatic Idyllwild Lilac Garden, with 165 completely different colours of the old style flowers that resemble clusters of tiny grapes with an intoxicating scent, typically spicy and typically candy. The colours vary from blue-violet and magenta to pinks and whites and, in fact, darkish purples, a few of which resemble the burgundy hues of purple wine.

In this mountain city the place winter is simply receding, his 300 lilac bushes are at their peak in May, mentioned Parton, a retired El Camino Junior College artwork instructor, who moved from Torrance to Idyllwild within the late Nineties. Parton, who mentioned he’s “old-school,” doesn’t have an internet site and his Facebook web page hasn’t been up to date since 2021, however guests can wander free of charge on weekends between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. via May 22.

White lilac blooms on a branch silhouetted against the sky.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Lilac blooms are deeply emotional for many individuals, Parton mentioned. Many guests inform him they grew up with lilacs on the East Coast however haven’t actually seen them since they moved to the West.

“This is a plant of memory,” he mentioned. “I’ve literally had women breaking down when they wander the garden. I have to have chairs for people just so they can sit and collect themselves. For many people, it’s just a magical plant.”

Parton, 83, retired in 1998 and was befriended by one other Idyllwild resident, live performance pianist Reva Ballreich, who began cultivating lilacs after carpal tunnel syndrome ended her music profession. She gave him many lilacs earlier than she died, beginning him on his lilac journey. For years now, his dream has been to make the lilac Idyllwild’s flower by giving bushes away to native companies and serving to to plant them. Today you possibly can see blooming lilacs up and down the primary road, he mentioned, the fruits of his labors.

A man stands among lilac bushes, holding a white lilac.

Gary Parton runs Idyllwild Lilac Garden, the place the crops bloom in spring in opposition to a backdrop of pine timber and mountains.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“This is a plant of memory.”

— Gary Parton

But the previous few years have been onerous on Parton’s lilacs. Last yr he formally closed his nursery, Alpenglow Lilac Garden, as a result of he didn’t suppose he might sustain with sustaining the enterprise (though he nonetheless has leftover crops to promote). Southern California’s ongoing drought has required him to water extra, and admission to the lilac backyard has at all times been free, so Parton has solely a lonely donation bucket to offset water payments that climbed over $800 final summer season.

“I couldn’t bring myself to have someone stand out front and collect money; it’s just too important for people to see this,” he mentioned.

Blooming lilacs and tall trees with the San Jacinto Mountains in the distance.

Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains are seen from Idyllwild Lilac Garden.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

But he nonetheless offers excursions to schoolchildren, hoping to construct a brand new basis of scented reminiscences, and he has some suggestions for Southern California gardeners who wish to develop lilacs: The crops normally want chilly temperatures to set blooms, not simple to seek out within the space’s average clime, however Parton says you possibly can trick lilacs into budding by withholding water from them in July and August till they begin to wilt. If you give the crops an excellent watering as soon as they wilt, they may bounce again, he mentioned, however the stress will jump-start their budding cycle in order that they bloom the next spring.

Two different suggestions: Make positive they get at the very least 4 hours of solar a day and avoid nitrogen fertilizers. “Lilacs don’t like nitrogen and if you overfeed them, you’ll end up with big bushes and no blooms.”

Purple lilac flowers at Idyllwild Lilac Gardens

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Parton’s lilac varieties date again to the 1800s and are available from all around the world — he even has a small part devoted to lilacs from Russia, which get visits yearly from a number of Russian households who stay in Los Angeles. “They set up tables, pass around food and talk about their childhood and the lilacs. They have no political angle; they just want to remember and celebrate the lilacs and be around them every year … wouldn’t it be great if all we had to argue about was who had the best lilac color?”

A young girl holds a bouquet of pink lilacs as two adults look on.

Megan, left, Hazel and Etan Rosenbloom tour Idyllwild Lilac Garden. Owner Gary Parton gave the guests a recent bouquet of pink lilacs.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Idyllwild Lilac Garden is open weekends from 9 a.m. to five p.m. at 25025 Fern Valley Road in Idyllwild-Pine Cove. Admission is free.

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