The Wrong Lilies

The Wrong Lilies

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ode to crape myrtles

Or, as we say in the South, ‘Oh, those crape myrtles.’  I can’t speak for all southern gardeners, of course, but for myself and others I know, the temptation is terrible to try to grow plants that are not suited to the South, as well as many which are.  In the second category there are lots and lots of truly lovely plants that will return year after year, or that will reseed, and that will prosper in the heat and humidity and frequent droughts enjoyed by the southern states.  In the first category are all the tempters that always seem to be right out in front at the nurseries and the home improvement stores and even at the grocery stores.

But this time of year, with July and the triple treats of heat, humidity and drought very much with us, when one drives anywhere, what one sees is crape myrtles in bloom.  There are great tall trees covered with blooms, there are small shrublets and clumps, and there are so many colors, white of course and every shade of red and pink and lavender.  There’s one house we pass where they have a veritable garden of crape myrtles, all sizes and colors, and so beautifully placed that we try to pass that way often in the summer just for pleasure.

The first crape myrtle we planted in our current home is white; I am personally mad for white crape myrtles.  It was labeled ‘Natchez’ and may actually be that variety; one can never trust labels.  Whatever it is, it has the most amazing scent I have ever found on a crape myrtle, and we just love it.  It is planted where we can enjoy it in the garden room or on the patio, but stand near it when there’s a light breeze and the sun is on it, and it’s especially glorious.  We also have a red and a very dark red, and we are scrambling to find a place to plant one of those with the color not of pale pink or of lavender, but of this particularly haunting paleness that catches our eyes everywhere we go.

One thing we never do, and it hurts our tummies when we see it, is cut our crape myrtles back to nubs, what one of our favorite garden writers calls ‘crape murder’.  We prune broken branches, of course, and in the late winter when problem branches can easily be seen, we take away in-growing branches that are rubbing against others, but we don’t whack the trees back and we don’t tip-prune the seed pods.

Our neighbors to the south have a row of huge white crape myrtle trees that must have been there for many years.  Sometimes when they are blooming and we are working at the potting bench just this side of the fence and under those trees, I am standing in a flurry of falling petals like summer snow.  We come in the house sometimes with petals in our hair, but we never mind because we enjoy the blooming trees so much and because it’s a rather lovely feeling having petals in one’s hair.

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