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Cool weather is extending season for New Hampshire's state flower

By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent

May 14. 2017 10:02PM
Guy Giunta Jr., chairman of the Governor's Lilac and Wildflower Commission, inspects a lilac shrub. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

As someone of 100 percent Italian ancestry, Guy Giunta Jr., by his own admission, is a passionate man.

But this spring, Giunta — whose name is pronounced “Joon-tah” — is downright ecstatic, thrilled, as the chairman of the Governor’s Lilac and Wildflower Commission — that he and the public are able to enjoy what he says is a great 2017 lilac season.

“The state is abloom,” Giunta said, noting that lilacs in the southern part of New Hampshire, from Nashua up through Manchester, are in full flower while the rest of the state is expected to follow soon thereafter.

“And the good news,” Giunta continued, “is that the season is going to last as long as the weather cooperates, which is by being cooler than usual.”

Actually a shrub, the New Hampshire Legislature in 1919 designated the purple lilac (syringa vulgaris) as the state flower.

Native to Eastern Europe and Asia, there are between 2.000 and 3,000 varieties of lilacs in the world and hundreds in the state, said Giunta, who added that there is documented proof that the first lilacs planted in what were then the English colonies in America were in Portsmouth, at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion.

The lilacs were recorded to be on the mansion property in 1750 and were likely planted earlier.

In 1984, then-Gov. John H. Sununu established what eventually became the Lilac and Wildflower Commission whose primary mission is to “promote extensive plantings of lilacs and wildflowers throughout the state for the pleasure and use of residents and visitors.”

The commission works with agricultural, educational, and horticultural programs; garden clubs; and the University of New Hampshire to plant and propagate lilacs and wildflowers.

A member of the commission since 1988, Giunta, who is a retired 26-year landscape specialist supervisor with the NH Department of Transportation, has been commission chairman since 1995.

A close-up of a spray of lilacs Thursday at the Franklin Veterans Memorial on Central Street. Guy Giunta Jr., the chairman of the Governor's Lilac and Wildflower Commission, says the 2017 lilac season is in full bloom in the southern part of the state. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

He has spoken about lilacs and wildflowers to hundreds of groups around the state, frequently drawing comments about his histrionic presentations.

“I used to tell them that if I didn’t have arms, I couldn’t talk,” joked Giunta.

He is thoroughly sold on the lilac as the state flower — and as one of the best things anyone can have in their garden or on their property — because of its beautiful, showy flower and its magnificent scent.

The commission annually holds a lilac photo contest — a full description is available online at www.nh.gov/lilacs/contest/documents/brochure.pdf — and it also gives free lilacs to communities that agree to plant them on public land. Those lilacs can be requested by calling Barbara Rawlins at 271-1611 at the Department of Transportation.

The commission’s website at www.nh.gov/lilacs/ contains answers to frequently-asked questions about lilac care, which Giunta summed up this way: give the shrubs full sun; prune them after blossoming; and keep groundcover low.

In terms of the ongoing lilac display, “What is going on this spring is wonderful,” Giunta said, “and most people would say I’m crazy” to relish the unseasonably cool temperatures, “but the cooler the weather, the longer the blossoms last.”

jkoziol@newstote.com


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