The Lumley Studio at Lilacland
The Story of a Home, Lilacs, and Art
My parents, Mabel and Al Lumley, began their adventure together by purchasing an 1834 Greek Revival house from the town of Prescott, now under the Quabbin Reservoir. They completed dismantling and re-erecting the house in the late 1930s. This house was their permanent residence after the war years. As more land was cleared they planted numerous flowering shrubs and trees. Beginning in the late 1940’s, in partnership with Amherst College President Charles Cole, they began planting a wide selection of apple, fruit, and nut trees. I remember walking through this newly planted orchard as a young child with the poet Robert Frost. At first these young trees thrived. But in the 1950’s many plantings failed to bear fruit. Today we see only those trees that were hardy enough to have survived.
Next, my father tried a more scientific approach and had experts at the University of Massachusetts test the soil. They suggested that as our soil is slightly alkaline, lilacs would thrive. Lilacs need only modest care, some pruning and fertilizing, and are little troubled by most diseases. Thereafter, plantings came in waves, and today there are over 300 varieties of hybrid lilacs planted among the remaining aged fruit and nut trees. Many came from nurseries that specialized in lilacs. My parents also acquired lilacs from major collections such as the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and the National Arboretum in Washington. Later, these arboretums added to their own collections with different varieties from Lilacland. My parents traveled to countries as far away as Yugoslavia to acquire unusual specimens, and they arranged for several shipments from Russia.
From the beginning it was important to my father that each lilac be on its own rootstock. Today we benefit from that decision as the root suckers rising above ground allow us to replant genetic copies of the mother plant.
For thirty years lilac lovers from all over have come to procure our rarer varieties. Many of the lilacs planted at homes in and around Amherst have come from Lilacland. Our popularity was increased when in May 1976 “Yankee Magazine” profiled Lilacland in a feature article.
According to Susan Delano McKelvey’s authoritative book “The Lilac,” published in 1928, the lilac originated in China. The oft-referred-to “Persian” lilac did not, then, come from Persia, but from the mountain slopes of southern and southeastern Kansu in China. Furthermore, lilac historians believe that somewhere around 1563 the first lilac was brought to Vienna from Constantinople by a Flemish scholar who was ambassador to the Sultan of Turkey. It did not take long for the plant to become a favorite in Europe, and when the Pilgrims came to this country they brought lilacs with them.
I continue to invite friends and the public to come to Lilacland during May and the first half of June when the lilacs are in bloom. And although I do not have quite the green thumb my parents had, the beauty of the landscape they created inspired me to become a landscape painter. Many of my paintings are scenes from the rich variety of nature offered year-round at Lilacland. Examples of this work are on display in the studio building gallery during lilactime in May.
The Lumley Studio at Lilacland 24 Harkness Road, Pelham, Amherst, MA 01002