Lemoine and the Lilac
Today is the birthday of the French flower breeder Victor Lemoine, who was born on this day in 1823.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Lemoine for enhancing the beauty of so many flowers in our gardens: lilacs, mock-oranges, phlox, peonies, gladiolus, tuberous begonias, geraniums, and deutzias.
Around the year 1850, Lemoine borrowed money from his gardener father and began a nursery that survived three generations thanks to his son Emile and his grandson Henri. The Lemoine nursery thrived on land bought in Nancy, France (pronounced "non-cee"). A few years later, Lemoine created his first double-flower; the Portulaca grandiflora or Moss Ross. As with so many of Lemoine's creations, the double-flower created double the beauty.
In 1854, Lemoine turned the original five-petaled single blossom of the geranium into a double-flowered stunner he called "Gloire de Nancy" or "Glory of Nancy."
Northern gardeners owe Lemoine a debt of gratitude for his work with peonies. He crossed the Paeonia wittmanniana with the Siberian albaflora; creating a peony that could withstand a winter freeze. Lemoine created some of our most memorable heirlooms: the white Le Cygne or Swan peony, the Primevere with creamy white outer guard petals, and packed with canary yellow petals inside, the blush-colored Solange peony, the pink Sarah Bernhardt, La Fee the Fairy peony, and the creamy-white Alsace-Lorraine peony.
But, it is the lilac that will forever be associated with Lemoine. Incredibly, Lemoine didn't start working on Lilacs until he was almost fifty. That said, Lemoine's wife, Marie Louise, was his tireless assistant when his eyes and fine-motor skills were failing. She hand-pollinated the little lilac flowers and aided both her husband and her son with hybridizing.
Lemoine worked magic with his lilacs. He made them bloom earlier and later. He improved the quality of the bloom, and he expanded their color spectrum. He grew the very first double lilac. By the time the Lemoine nursery closed its doors in 1968, the Lemoine's had bred 214 new cultivars of Lilac.
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