Sharing a scent of spring

Maxine Porter shares her homegrown lilacs with Columbia
Saturday, April 26, 2008 | 3:37 p.m. CDT; updated 3:28 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Delbert, front, and Maxine, back, work together to get their lilac bunches ready for sale. Delbert trims excess foliage off the stems while Maxine puts the bunches together.

COLUMBIA — Dressed in a light purple shirt and a purple jacket, 76-year-old Maxine Porter almost seemed to blend in as she delicately picked up the lilacs, the flower with small purple buds which bunch together on long stems.

The heavy perfumed smell filled the garage, where about 15 bunches of lilacs were lined up, soaking in water in old buckets of paint. Even with the chilly Friday afternoon weather, the lilacs made the old worn garage feel like spring.


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Porter has been growing lilacs in her backyard since she moved into her home off of West Broadway in 1952.

She planted the first two lilacs in the backyard from a gift her aunt-in-law gave her.

Since then, her backyard has bloomed. She now has more than 100 feet of lilacs in her backyard.

About 20 years ago, Porter started sharing the beauty of her lilacs with others by selling them at the Boone County Farmers Market. Her husband, Delbert Porter, grows tomatoes and sells them in the summer.

Porter said this year, they haven’t been able to sell them at the farmers market because her husband has a bad knee, and it is too tiring for her to take them by herself.

Instead, the smell of the lilacs can be traced this season to the driveway of her home, where Porter has set up a small shop of the fragrant flowers.

They have had no trouble selling them, she said.

They started selling the lilacs from their home on Thursday evening, for $4 a bunch. On Friday, they sold about 13 bunches between noon and 5:00 p.m.

Some of her customers are people who see her homemade signs in her front yard; others are regular customers who know she sells the lilacs every spring.

A lot of her customers this year have been buying lilacs for their mothers, Porter said.

She likes sharing the spring joy with others.

“My favorite part is taking the flowers to church and nursing homes,” Porter said. “This year we started taking them over to the senior center.”

Cutting the lilacs is a team effort between her and her husband, Porter said. But when comparing who does the better job, she has to give herself credit.

“I cut them better,” Porter said, laughing. “I cut the flowers from the inside, in the middle of the bush up high where they grow tall shoots.”

Whenever her grandchildren come over, they help them cut the lilacs.

“It has been a family thing. One of my boys won’t eat tomatoes because he had to pick them,” Porter said.

Even though spring weather hasn’t come to stay quite yet, Porter said the cold weather allows the lilacs to last longer.

She will continue selling the flowers from her home on Russell Street and West Broadway until she doesn’t have anymore, she said.

“The smell of lilacs reminds me of perfume,” Porter said. “When people come buy the lilacs they smell the flowers and say, ‘These are my favorite!’”

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