I grew up in Chicago, where the lilac bushes were twice as tall as we were and lily of the valley grew in a magical swath the entire length of my parents' house and yard. But here in San Francisco, the lilac and lily of the valley in the flower shop where I work are met with amazement — "What is this?!"
Now, you should know that after seven years in California I am still completely starry-eyed about the plants I get to see growing, right in town: olive trees! Lemon trees! Pomegranate trees! The first time I saw a pomegranate tree was on a walk to my friends' house — they're both California girls so they met my "You guys! A pomegranate tree!!!!" with blank stares. Pomegranates! The richness of what grows in California- not to mention the looooooong list of native plants — can be a bit intimidating, so it's nice when every once in a while, the Midwest gets the upper hand.
Though neither lilacs no lilies of the valley are native to Illinois, they were both such a part of my childhood. Lilacs grew all around, purples and whites, and we'd ask neighbors if we could clip a branch or two. How different it would be to only know lilacs as $9/stem (not branch, stem) exotics, with little trace of their signature scent. Lily of the valley transformed our yard each spring into a magical fairy woodland. I would pick a few, but preferred to observe their daintiness in the "wild" (I don't think my parents planted them, maybe the original owners did a hundred years ago). Peonies are another flower that grew in massive clumps in almost every yard — thousands of dollars of flowers per garden, at San Francisco prices.
My customers' amazement over the flowers I grew up with gave me a renewed appreciation for where I'm from — what could be luckier than to grow up surrounded by lilacs? Have you had a similar realization?
Above: lilac and lily of the valley are also especially lovely together, as in this arrangement by Kelly Sullivan of Botanique, as seen on her blog.