There’s a moment every year when you walk out the door and realize, “spring is really here!” Temperatures climb upward, buds appear on the trees, and birdsong suddenly seems louder. Nothing drives the feeling home quite like spring flowers, though—and the avid gardeners at the Warkworth Lilac Festival have found a way to turn that sensation in a weeks-long celebration along the Millennium Lilac Trail.
“The last weekend in May, that’s our celebration weekend,” says Janice Allen, the festival’s co-chair and one of its founding organizers. “But lots of people walk the trail and enjoy the lilacs, probably from the second week of May on until about the first or second week in June.”
The Millennium Trail at the southern end of Warkworth’s Main Street runs 2.6km return, with over eighty varieties of lilac growing along its length. Even without organized events, the trail is a tranquil, harmonious experience along the banks of Burnley Creek. Interpretative signage is available for horticulturalists to pore over, but no prior knowledge is required to enjoy the burst of colour and delicate fragrance that permeates the trail.
Left/Top: Janice Allen, Festival Co-Chair. Right/Bottom: Trail Entrance
“We have music, we have kids events, we have food,” Janice says, referring to the festivities on the last weekend in May. “We’ve started box lunches this year, where you buy a box lunch and sit along the trail and enjoy. We have hotdogs, Jordan’s Pizza, and vendors that are selling horticulture products.”
If a garden-themed event doesn’t immediately entice younger kids, the festival has a way to sweeten the deal. A scavenger hunt along the trail encourages children to find all the informational signs, and their completed fact sheet can be redeemed at the Village Pantry for a free ice cream cone. On top of the hunt, kid-friendly attractions include a lemonade and cookie stand, and a rock-painting exercise along the trail organized by the Warkworth Public Library.
For the grownups, there’s live music to be enjoyed along the Trail. In 2023, the lineup includes a jazz trio, brass quintet, and harpist. Local artisans will have vendor booths, and there are also plenty of opportunities to chat and share knowledge with horticultural groups, or to bring a floral arrangement home.
Warkworth is exceptionally active for a small town, but Janice says the festival emerged when organizers noticed a gap in the seasonal offerings. “We had the maple syrup festival in March, and the rodeo in July, the fair in September, but we didn’t have anything in late spring,” she notes.
The festival has grown since, with past years seeing new varieties of lilac added to the trail. Last year introduced the Avalanche double-white lilac, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 70th Platinum Jubilee. The year the focus is on blue and yellow lilacs, in honour of the strength, courage, and resilience of the Ukrainian people.
It’s a gardener’s paradise, but you don’t need a background in botany to appreciate the diversity and beauty of the Lilac Festival. Deep down, Janice says the appeal of lilacs is practically universal. “You know what? They signal spring. It’s really one of those symbols that say, oh my gosh, it’s spring! They’re one of the first flowers to come out, and they’re just so pretty and they smell so nice… simple as that.”