That gorgeous hedge of 100 year old lilac bushes that edge historical properties have interesting roots. Chances are what sits beneath those roots may surprise you!
While those that came before us no doubt appreciated the aesthetics of the lilac, they were planted for much more practical reasons.
Today composting toilets, going off grid, the tiny house movement etc. seem like revolutionary ideas. It is all too easy to forget that most places in the “first world” have only been “on grid” with electricity, central heating and running water for a mere century or so.
Prior to flush toilets, every home had an outhouse; a small wooden shed-like structure set over a deep hand-dug hole. Inside a toilet seat was cut into a wooden bench raised above the hole and a raised floor placed in front of it.
It was plumbing simplicity at its finest.
Some deluxe versions even had two or three seats for when children and perhaps a parent went out together. It was a coveted layout comparable to having two sinks in a bathroom today.
Eventually the hole would get full and the outhouse would have to be moved over to a freshly dug one. The old hole would be covered over and…you guessed it. A lilac bush would be planted on top.
Why a lilac bush? The smell of course! The fragrant blossoms helped mask the unpleasant odour of the outhouse beside it.
Every time the hole filled and the outhouse shifted over, another lilac was planted in its place until eventually a hedge was formed. The lilac thrived in the rich compost and humans were gifted in return with the fragrant blooms.
Each hole lasted at least a couple years (depending on the size of the family of course). On large rural properties the outhouse could be moved along without issue. On smaller properties one had to look to the future where the outhouse might have to return to a previously used site, so planting lilacs had to be done with a bit of forethought.
Even so, just a couple strategically placed lilacs could provide a welcome perfume on a hot summer afternoon making it well worth sacrificing a couple future hole sites to accommodate them.
While not every well established lilac hedge or bush along a back fence means an outhouse once shuffled along ahead, chances are pretty good that it did.