Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens
Just a bit east of our little town, along the Columbia River, is a sign I've seen for years that points the way to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens. I've often wondered about these gardens but, always in a rush to get here or there, have never taken the time to stop and smell the flowers.
Recently a friend gave me a copy of the Jane Kirkpatrick novel Where Lilacs Still Bloom and I was transported to the 1889 gardens of Mrs. Hulda Klager.
Hulda and her family soon became my friends, so I told Riff that I really wanted to go to the gardens. Being the wonderful husband that he is, he said, "Great! Let's go next Saturday!" And we did.
Hulda came to America with her parents from Germany when she was just
two years old. At age thirteen, her family moved to Washington and bought the farm on the banks of the Lewis River at Woodland. Her daddy built the beautiful farmhouse you see in the pictures here.
Hulda married dairy farmer, Frank Klager, living and raising their family on a neighboring farm. Hulda was irritated by the fact the apples from her parents orchard were so small and soft. It took a huge amount of apples to make just one pie and they were difficult to peel, so with her Dad's help, she begin to graft different varieties onto the tree's in the hopes of producing a bigger, firmer apple. It took years, but Hulda's hard work finally paid off with
the apple she was trying for.
Hulda really loved her flowers and after reading about the work of Luther Burbank to improve plants through propagation, she really caught the bug. Frank supported Hulda's interests and after a long illness, he sold two of his cows to purchase her dream lilac starts, Madame Lemoine, from France. This was just what Hulda needed, helping her get over her illness.
Her dream was to produce a creamy white lilac, with 12 petals on a sturdier stalk. Every spring, Hulda would painstakingly pollinate one lilac bush with the pollen of another, marking each plant with tags that told the color, petals, scent and strength of each bush.
Not only did she work with the white lilac's, but Hulda also strived for a deeper purple, a pink, a red. By 1910 she had fourteen new varieties of lilacs and in another five years, she had so many varieties that she begin to host Lilac Days during the spring bloom, which is still going on today. Lilac days runs from mid April to Mother's Day each year. (This is the only time that lilac's are available for sale, you can tour the farmhouse and the gift shop is open.)
(this is Sensation. One of my favorites! I brought a start home!)
Hulda was an incredibly strong woman, re-building her lilac gardens time and again when the Lewis River and the Columbia River would overflow their banks and flood the farm. Along with her family, she would work tirelessly to pull up her beloved lilac bushes, putting them on rafts to float above the waters until the floods would recede.
In 1948, the biggest flood ever destroyed the gardens. Hulda was 83 and tired. Not only was her beloved Frank gone, but she had lost two daughters as well. She just didn't think she had it in her to re-build her gardens one more time and so many of her varieties were destroyed. Then, one by one, neighbors and friends who had purchased Klager lilac's begin to drop off starts at the farm. Soon word spread and Hulda's lilacs were coming to her from all over the country.
At the age of 85, in 1950, Hulda had restored her gardens and Lilac Days was held once again. Amazing!
Today, the gardens are owned and maintained by the Hulda Klager Lilac Society. They sit on 4 acres of the original homestead and the farmhouse has been restored to it's Victorian origin. The society does their best to keep the gardens historically authentic. They are absolutely beautiful!
These gorgeous gardens are well worth the drive if you live anywhere near. The scent of lilac's just permeates the air.
Don't forget to grab yourself a copy of Where Lilacs Still Bloom!