In the middle of May Kyiv is in usual blossom of chestnuts and lilacs. There is even a fairytale about how this plant appeared in nature.

The Spring came on Earth and took the Sun up in the Sky in order to warm everything living on Earth. The Spring took the brightest colors of rainbow, mixed them with sunrays to create beautiful flowers. When the Spring arrived to the north lands it had only white and violet colors left, so it mixed them and threw on Earth, and lilac bushes appeared. 

Lilac blossoms only for several weeks in a year, and Kyiv residents and guests of the capital hurry to see it in the biggest garden of lilac in the National Gryshko's botanic garden (NBG).

In Kyiv you can see 21 out of 28 lilac species existing in nature, including 90 breeds and more than 90 decorative cross-breeds of NBG selection. This unique place is listed among scientific objects of national treasure of Ukraine.

About a thousand and a half lilac bushes blossom every spring in Kyiv. Ukrainian scientists started working on creation of new breeds back in 1957, and now Ukraine displays lilac bushes with such historical and poetic names as Bogdan Khmelnitski", "Taras Bulba", "Lights of Donbass", "Poltava", "Lesya Ukrainka". Moreover, scientists managed to breed eight spontaneous hybrids, which will obtain the status of breed within the time.

From the very beginning

The idea of creation of a lilac garden appeared in the process of construction of the Botanic garden, senior research scientist of the dendrology department Vasyl Gorb told ForUm. "The very construction started in 1944, during the war. The place was found on a hill. Climbing the hill visitors can see Vydubetski monastery, Dnipro and its reaches. Such picture impresses nothing less than the garden itself."

Apart from the proper place, scientists needed seeds. "We did not have any seeds in 1944, but our specialists knew that Germany did. After the war, in 1947 the garden bought lilac seeds in Germany, only 35 breeds, and shipped in Ukraine. In spring of 1948 the seeds were planted. The seeds were of German and French selection, but we researched and studied and by 1985 our collection had already about 70 breeds. As of today the garden has about 130 breeds. Moreover, we have about 80 cross-breeds in out collection. They are not as good as famous breeds, but as a stage of the breeding process we keep and take care of them," Gorb explains.

"Our research continues constantly. Care and breeding take a lot of time. Strain testing, for example, takes about 15 years. First we need to breed a plant and bring it to the right size. Then we give it for testing for three years until the plant reaches the stage of stable decorativeness. The next three-five years the plant is observed and estimated. We continuously enrich the collection with breeds of German, French, Canadian, Belarusian, Baltic selections," the scientist and the author of the "Lesya Ukrainka" breed says. 

Every new breed of lilac bushes is unique, the scientist believes. "A hybrid obtains the status of new breed because it is un unique and does not repeat characteristics of other breeds. It has something original, we call it a morphological marking. However, all breeds are beautiful. It depends on a person's taste. Some people like white lilac bushes, others prefer dark. Some people like four-petal lilac bushes, others prefer many-petal ones. My breed "Lesya Ukrainka", for example, has 8-10 petals. Flowers of "Dream" breed, for example, are 4.5 cm in diameter and have dark-violet color," Vasyl Gorb explains.

According to him, the garden made it through the winter just fine. "Our breeds can stand low temperatures without problems. The lowest temperature we had was 37 degrees below zero, and bushes did just fine. In fact, common lilac as a breed originated in mountains, and severe frosts cannot hurt it. Heavy snowfall, on the other hand, can. This winter our bushes suffered a lot, as snowfalls broke many branches. However, we will fix them, and everything will be ok," he promises.

"They say there are bigger collections of lilac bushes in world. I know only one like this - in Canada. However, it is not open for public, it is just a private collection and numbers 500 breeds. The world collection of common lilac numbers 1.5 thousand breeds. During one of the world  academic conferences, I told a foreign colleague about how many people come to visit our garden and lilac collection. He told me he did not even want to dream about so many people walking in his garden," Vasyl Kuzmich laughs.

The original size of the garden made one and a half hectares. "But when we started intense work on enlargement of the collection in 1985 we needed more land. Every time there was a piece of unoccupied land we took it and adapted for lilac. Now the garden measures 2.35 hectares," the scientist says proudly.

Homo sapiens

"The lilac garden is very popular among visitors. I have visited similar gardens abroad, but have never seen such boom. In Moscow, for example, the lilac garden is smaller and is situated on the plain. Lilac bushes impress when they are many, and when they grow in adequate scenery. The whole complex of our garden with its splendid views bring hundreds of thousands of visitors," the scientist shares his opinion.

Indeed, ForUm correspondents saw for themselves how long the lines of comers wishing to visit the garden were.

"Such big number of visitors is not good for the garden, but we have created it for people, so we have come to terms with possible damage," Vasyl Kuzmich says. "The majority of visitors behave properly, but per every 100 people there is one individual who does harm. And if we have 100 thousand visitors, one thousand of them bring damage - break blooms, ignore walking paths and walk on trenched ground. Trampling-down hurts the plants. If a thousand people tramp on the black soil, it will turn into asphalt, roots will not breath due to poor airing and plants may die. We have to stir the ground and restore it all the time," he adds. Moreover, the garden no longer has plates with the names of breeds, because inadequate visitors steal or break them. "Once we made 300 plates, costing 50 hryvnias each, but after the blooming season the two thirds of them were missing," Vasyl complains. Indeed, ForUm's correspondents saw improper behaviour for themselves as well. Some garbage bins were chuck-full with diapers lying around....

... while other bins, 50 meter farther, were empty....

Visitors just don't want to carry garbage around, and prefer to leave it in the nearest bin even if it is already full. It is surprising that despite such attitude the garden territory remains clean and well kept.

We were happy to learn that selling beer and other alcoholic drinks on the territory of the Botanic garden is forbidden. Though the majority of visitors walking in the shadow of plants behave properly, there are those who seek better panoramic view for a picture and break bushes in the process.

Other better-photo-hunters overstep fences ignoring "No trespassing" sign and climb the hills stepping on flowers. 

It seems that beauty of the garden makes people violate the rules. However, if you don't feel sorry for a destroyed flower, at least have some respect to the work of specialists who created this garden and who treat every bush as own children. This garden is a living proof of love to nature in general  and every flower in particular, and it hurts to see visitors, for whom all this work has been done, to treat it so carelessly.

Tetyana Hryhoriyeva, photos by Viktor Kovalchuk


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