Lilacs at the Central Experimental Farm

    History of the Collection    



Beginnings of the Farm
The First Lilacs
Isabella Preston

Literature


Main Dairy Barn, 1891
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S. vulgaris 'Charles X'
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Beginnings of the Farm

The Central Experimental Farm (CEF) was established in 1886 by the Canadian government. It was the centrepiece of five experimental stations set up across Canada at a time when a large proportion of the country's population made its living from the land.

In 1887, 465 acres were acquired (in the township of Nepean) for the CEF; 64 of these were allocated for an arboretum. A further 361 acres were obtained in 1929 from lumber baron J.R. Booth. Today the Farm occupies over 1,000 acres.

The Dominion Arboretum was started in 1889 with the planting of 200 types of woody plants, two or more of each. The intent was to test plants from around the world for their hardiness and usefulness for Canada.

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Lilacs in Arboretum, 1901
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Lilac Walk, 1929
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Macoun Residence
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The First Lilacs

Among the first plantings were 15 lilacs, of which two are still growing (S. vulgaris var. alba and S. vulgaris var. purpurea) in the Arboretum. The variety of lilacs was broadened to 130 types by 1899, of which 112 were S. vulgaris cultivars originating in Canada, France, Germany and the USA.

Throughout the years many other lilacs have been introduced, first in the Dominion Arboretum and later throughout the CEF grounds. Many were moved from the Arboretum to create the Lilac Walks in the Ornamental Gardens as early as 1919. Today there are over 340 lilacs throughout the Ornamental Gardens, encompassing 262 different types.

The Macoun Memorial Garden was created in 1933-34 on the site of the residence of W.T. Macoun, Curator of the Arboretum and Botanic Garden and later Dominion Horticulturist. Macoun was at the Farm from 1888 to 1933, with a mandate to develop strains of plants that would withstand the Canadian climate and beautify Canadian gardens.

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S. (Villosae Group) 'Isabella'
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S. (Villosae Group) 'Audrey'
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S. ×hyacinthiflora 'Maureen'
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S. (Villosae Group) 'Diana'
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Isabella Preston

Isabella Preston was hired by Macoun in 1920 to help carry out the CEF mandate. She was the first person at the CEF to concentrate on breeding ornamental plants, and her lilies, roses, Siberian irises, lilacs and crab apples became famous worldwide. Many examples of her work can be found at the CEF today. Her Rosybloom crab apples (notable along Prince of Wales Drive) were named for Canadian lakes; her Siberian irises for Canadian rivers; the Stenographer group of lilies for women working in the Farm's office; and the Fighter Aircraft series of lilies for second world war Allied planes. Lilacs, in many cases, were named for Shakespearean characters.

Miss Preston crossed two Chinese species of lilacs: S. komarowii subsp. reflexa (with attractive drooping panicles) and S. villosa (very hardy). The hybrids became known as Preston lilacs – a hardy, late-blooming race with semi-pendulous flowers in many shades of purplish pink. In recognition of her contribution, these hybrids were named S. ×prestoniae. Cultivars ‘Audrey', 'Elinor' and ‘Isabella' received Awards of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, London, England, in 1939, 1951 and 1941, respectively. 'Bellicent' was awarded a First Class Certificate in 1946. 'Isabella' is featured in one of two stamps issued in 2007 by Canada Post.

S. ×josiflexa hybrids – a cross of S. josikaea and S. komarowii subsp. reflexa – are also the origination of Miss Preston. She later crossed S. komarowii subsp. reflexa and S. sweginzowii to produce S. ×swegiflexa cultivars, as well as originating eight early blooming cultivars by crossing cultivars of S. ×hyacinthiflora and S. vulgaris. There are seven of these cultivars growing at the Farm. Eighty of her late-blooming hybrids are recorded in the International Lilac Register, although only about one-half of these were distributed to other institutions or nurseries.

In 2005, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Friends started the Preston Heritage Collection, a planting of Villosae Group lilacs, to honour Isabella Preston for pioneering the development of attractive, Canada-hardy, late-blooming lilacs. The collection includes examples of lilacs developed by other originators - in particular, Canadians Drs William A. Cumming, William R. Leslie and Frank L. Skinner in Manitoba. The collection also includes seven Villosae series species which have been involved in crosses.

A list of the lilacs in this collection can be seen and printed.

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Literature

  • Anstey, T.H. One Hundred Harvests: Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, 1886-1986. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, Horticulture Series No. 27, 1986.
  • Buckley, A.R. Trees and Shrubs of the Dominion Arboretum. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, Publication 1697, 1980.
  • Buckley, A.R. "Lilacs at Ottawa". Lilacs 11(1), 1982.
  • Hinchcliff, R. and Popadiouk, R. For the Love of Trees: a Guide to the Trees of Ottawa's Central Experimental Farm Arboretum. General Store Publishing House 2007.
  • Smith, H. and Bramley, M. Ottawa's Farm: a History of the Central Experimental Farm. General Store Publishing House 1996.
  • von Baeyer, E. "Creating the Garden of Canada: W.T. Macoun and the Gospel of Horticulture". University of Windsor, Humanities Research Group Working Papers, Vol 12, 2003. http://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/HRG/article/viewFile/375/278
  • von Baeyer, E. "The Horticultural Odyssey of Isabella Preston". Canadian Horticultural History/Histoire de l'horticulture au Canada 1(3):125-175, 1987.

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Building 72, Arboretum, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0C6
Tel: (613) 230-3276    Fax: (613) 230-1238    E-mail:
info@friendsofthefarm.ca