PHOTO: after more than a century, fresh lilacs once again decorate the recently restored interior of the Empress’s Mauve Boudoir in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum
For the first time in more than a hundred years, the fragrant scent of lilacs once again fill the interiors of the Alexander Palace during the cold winter months. The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum have revived the tradition, by placing lilacs in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir and the Maple Drawing Room of the Alexander Palace.
It was during the Imperial Family’s residence in the palace [between 1905-1917] that Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, filled her rooms fresh flowers year round. During the winter months, fragrant lilacs were grown in the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo. Even during the first few months of their house arrest in 1917, flowers remained in the interiors. Since “prisoners” were not entitled to any luxuries, the flowers were soon removed from the rooms by their captors.
PHOTO: fresh lilacs have also been placed in the recently restored interior of the Maple Drawing Room in the Alexander Palace. © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum
In order to provide fresh lilacs for the palace, the greenhouses at Tsarskoye Selo, as in the beginning of the last century, use a forcing technique, by which plants come out of dormancy, allowing them to bloom throughout the year. In the early 20th century, bushes were planted in greenhouse boxes, and lilacs began to be prepared for awakening in December, with the help of additional light. The interiors of the Alexander Palace were decorated with historical varieties, among them the famous white “Madame Lemoine” lilac, which was on the order lists of Tsarskoye Selo gardeners. It was from this variety that the cult of lilac began.
Empress Alexandra Feodorovna loved flowers – the rooms in her private quarter of the palace were decorated with fresh flowers all year round. Floral themes were also present in the wall upholstery, furniture, stucco reliefs on the walls and ceilings. The Empress was especially fond of lilacs. It is no coincidence that in her Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, that the furniture and walls were decorated with lilac-colored silk, which reflected the Empress’s preferred lilac tones in clothes, and lilac-scented perfumes.
PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna admiring a tub of lilacs in the Mauve Boudoir of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo. 1909
Lilacs were placed everywhere in the palace: cut branches in a vase on a table by the window and bushes in a jardinière [a decorative flower box or planter] by the sofa in the Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir; magnificent lilac compositions decorated the Pallisander (Rosewood) and Maple Drawing Rooms.
In present day, between late spring – early summer, the Catherine and Alexander Parks are filled with lilacs, especially along Lilac Alley in the Catherine Park.
Lilacs first appeared at Tsarskoye Selo in the 18th century. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, trees and shrubs were regularly planted in the parks of Tsarskoye Selo, including lilacs. Under Catherine II, parks and greenhouses were replenished with new species of plants, flowers and shrubs, including lilacs. Under Alexander I in 1817, at the direction of the architect Adam Menelas, the gardener Fyodor Lyamin planted lilacs in front of the palace and the colonnade, where they continued to bloom for over a hundred years. In the middle of the 19th century, the Lilac Alley was created, stretching from the Pink Guardhouse to the Krestovy Canal. In the 19th century, gardeners planted many new varieties of lilacs with various colors: white, mauve, purple and pink.
In the 19th century, many new varieties of lilac appeared with a variety of colors: white, mauve, purple and pink. A rich collection was formed at the end of the century in a small family company Lemoynov from the French city of Nancy. It was founded by Victor Lemoine, a master of ornamental plant breeding. He was not a supplier of the Russian Imperial Court, however, his varieties were purchased for Tsarskoye Selo, among them – “Madame Antoine Buchner” (terry lilac with dark pink buds, large, fragrant flowers from mauve-pink to pale whitish -pink), “Madame Lemoine” (lilac with white, large, double fragrant flowers).
PHOTO: each year, lilacs decorate the interiors of the Alexander Palace on 6th June, in honour of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s birthday. The photo above, shows the Marble (Mountain) Hall
In the years prior to the closing of the Alexander Palace for restoration between 2015-2021 – bouquets of fresh lilacs were placed in the former apartments of the Empress on her birthday: 6th June [O.S. 25th May]. Now that the restoration of the eastern wing of the Alexander Palace has been completed, let us hope that this annual tradition is also revived.
© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2022