Lilac Sunday at Arnold Arboretum Is the Perfect Mother’s Day Outing

Fragrant flowers, food trucks, a rare opportunity to picnic at the arboretum…this is the place to take Mom on Sunday.

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Photo courtesy of Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Thinking of bringing Mom flowers this Mother’s Day? Why not bring her to the flowers? Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum will host its 108th annual Lilac Sunday celebration in honor of the spring premiere of its world-renowned lilac collection, blossoming with more than 170 varieties.

Wander through Bussey Hill’s plentiful paths of purple perennials on your own, or join a 45-minute guided tour of the lilac garden and surrounding grounds. There you’ll learn how to spot both physical and fragrant differences between the collection’s various species in a walking botany crash course, and uncover their individual native histories. Don’t forget to stop by the horticultural truck display at the Center Street Gate, where vintage arboretum maintenance trucks are available for viewing and pictures.

Educational crafts and games on the Hunnewell Lawn will keep children entertained with lilac fragrance tests, origami workshops, memory games, and Mother’s Day card decorating.

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Photo courtesy of Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

Amidst the frenzy of free floral festivities, you’ll find nearly twenty of Boston’s finest food trucks, including Clover, Mei Mei, and Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. Picnicking on the arboretum grounds is exclusive to this day only, so don’t forget to bring a blanket for a botanical brunch Mom will never forget.

While official Lilac Sunday events end at 3 p.m., the arboretum will remain open per usual until dusk. Take the time to explore other exclusive springtime collections in full bloom, including a plentiful 640-plant shrub and vine garden, striking red azalea border, and an assortment of Japanese bonsai and penjing trees—some as old as 275 years.

The Arnold Arboretum’s lilac collection dates back to the early 19th century, preceding the arboretum’s founding in 1872. Benefactor Benjamin Bussey planted the institution’s first lilac hedgerows after acquiring the land in 1806. Once established years later, the arboretum transplanted the remnants of his lilacs to the east side of the property into what is now Bussey Hill. A continuous addition of new species has yielded more than a hundred herbal hybrids, contributing to a collection of more than 370 individual lilac plants. It remains one of the oldest and largest lilac collections in North America, recognized for its expansive range in species, size, and color.

Held annually on Mother’s Day in recent years, Lilac Sunday is the arboretum’s most anticipated event of the year, consistently attracting an average of 40,000 attendees. The celebration has garnered a loyal multi-generational fan base since its start in the early 1900s. Arboretum admirers both young and old flock to Jamaica Plain for food, fun, and flowers—rain or shine.

“Even if we cancelled the event, people would still come to see the lilacs,” event planner Pam Thompson says. “It unites every arboretum visitor in a celebration of springtime.”

Sunday, May 8, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 125 Arborway, Boston, Public transportation is strongly advised, with parking limited to surrounding curb space.

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Photo courtesy of Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University



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