The arrival of spring in Taos brings with it the blossoming of lilacs everywhere. Lilacs in springtime are ubiquitous in Taos, they are as iconic as the Hollyhocks of summer. Whether set against a Taos blue sky, an adobe wall, or draping over a coyote fence, lilacs are a much-loved sight in Taos.
The artist Rebecca Salsbury James began a campaign in the 1940’s to plant lilacs as a way of beautifying Taos Plaza. Rebecca had accompanied Georgia O’Keeffe for their first visit to Taos, remaining here throughout her life. Her home La Casa Feliz is located at the end of Bent Street, where you can still see her lilacs as they bloom each year.
The annual Taos Lilac Festival, scheduled for May 15-17, 2020 was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. One of the sponsors for this event is the Los Jardineros Garden Club of Taos, a civic group dedicated to the beautification of Taos, including encouraging local gardeners to plant more lilacs. You can view the walking tour map for Taos Lilac Garden by clicking here.
Lilacs have a typical blooming period of up to three weeks. Many of these brilliant bushes and hedgerows of blossoms can be found while driving the side roads of Taos.
Here is my suggested route for a scenic and safe drive for viewing lilacs in the Taos Historic District:
Start at the northern end of Salazar Road, head to La Loma Plaza at Valdez and Ranchitos Road, drive on to La Loma Street. Drive over to the next block onto Valverde Street, there are also some lovely lilacs in bloom on Geronimo Lane near the Hanuman Temple. On Valverde Street you’ll pass behind the Taos Library and Town Hall to reach the Taos Living Center where you can see from the road beautiful lilacs in bloom.
From Valverde St. cross over Camino de la Placita to Lund Street, there you’ll also find Lilacs in bloom on Theodora Street, Sierra Vista Road, and Hinde Street.
The Sierra Vista Cemetery (505 Paseo del Pueblo Norte) is awash in lilacs, park your vehicle and stroll around to see for yourself. Lilacs are commonly planted in cemeteries as they need little, to no upkeep. Lilac colored clothing was considered proper mourning attire, the flowers were worn as a sign of a lost love.
Drive north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte turning left at the stoplight onto the northern end of Camino de la Placita and keep an eye out for all the lilacs in bloom that you can see from the roadside until you arrive at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Once again, park and walk around to see the gardens there. Continue driving up ‘Placitas’, turn onto Ledoux Street and right onto Ranchitos Road then up on over to Quesnel Street where you’ll see the Couse Meadow and more lilacs all around you.
Cross Kit Carson Road to Morada Lane up to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (240 Morada Lane), from the large parking area you can view hedges and rows of more lilacs in bloom. Back onto Kit Carson Road drive east, quickly turning left onto Las Cruces Lane, where you will see some of the very best gardens proudly on display. Back to Kit Carson Road heading east, drive to the Thom Wheeler Studio Gallery (939 Kit Carson Rd.). From here, turn back towards Taos until you reach Burch Street. Turn left here, right onto Los Pandos, then right onto Montoya Street and left back onto Kit Carson Road notice more lilacs at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site (146 Kit Carson Rd.). Turn north onto Paseo del Pueblo Norte to see the lilacs at Kit Carson Park & Cemetery, the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House (227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte) and the El Pueblo Lodge (412 Paseo del Pueblo Norte).
As lilac season begins to fade in late May, many areas are past their prime. Lilacs on Bent Street are usually worth seeing, most have now faded. This route is meant to show you lilacs in bloom right now in the Taos Historic District.
Lucy McCall, a Taos herbalist and Associate Instructor at UNM said, “People are just coming into consciousness of foraging for edible flowers, herbs, and plants. I’ve used lilacs as a medicine to reduce fever by steeping lilacs in warm water to make a tea. Not too hot or you’ll lose the lovely aroma. They also have astringent qualities. Lilacs used as a flower essence open up all the chakras for those who practice Kundalini.” Aromatherapy usage of lilacs also helps to ward off depression, creating an uplifting emotional and spirituality quality.
Lilac flowers may also be used to make a simple syrup to enjoy as a refreshment with sparkling water or they can be made into a vodka-based beverage much like a homemade limoncello.
Here is my recipe for a delicate and not too sweet:
Lilac Shortbread Cookie
- 1 Stick of Unsalted Butter
- 1/4 Cup Powdered Confectioners’ Sugar
- 1 Cup Flour
- 2 Tsp Blueberry Syrup
- 1 Tsp Vanilla
- 1/4 Cup Dried Lilac Flowers
- Cream the sugar and butter
- Add the rest of the ingredients, adding the Lilacs last
- Roll the dough out between sheets of parchment paper to 3/8 inch thick
- Use a simple cookie cutter or slice into wedges
- Place onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet
- Bake in the oven at 325 degrees for 12-14 minutes until they begin to brown at the edges.
British artist David Hockney has said: “Do remember they can’t cancel the Spring.”
I hope this encourages you to go out for a drive, roll your windows down and take in the scented air of lilacs blooming in Taos.
Author: Robert Cafazzo is the shop owner behind Two Graces Taos – an affordable art gallery, book store and curio shop. Robert is also a painter, collector, and tour guide with Taos History Tours.