Ode to a crape myrtle

There are a number of special plants in my yard, dear to me because Ray selected and installed them. They are lasting gifts from him as I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow for many years. One of the most cherished is my crape myrtle.

When we moved to Georgia, I was a colorist for a large fiber-producer. In my role, I followed color trends and chose colors for fibers the company produced as well as for carpet samples we showed our customers. I was delighted to have the opportunity to put my expertise to use choosing colors for the interior and exterior finishes of the home being built for us.

Likewise, Ray was looking forward to having a nearly-blank slate to work with outside since the builder-installed landscaping left a lot to be desired. Little did I know the exterior colors I picked (cream accented with various shades of rust and cinnamon) would present a challenge for Ray when it came to selecting a crape myrtle to reside in the main bed in front of the house. Varieties with pink or purple or magenta blossoms would clash with the brick and shutter colors and clashing just wasn’t an option! Never one to shrink from a challenge, especially one involving horticulture, Ray came up with the perfect solution, a cultivar called ‘Natchez’, with creamy white flowers and cinnamon-colored bark.

I don’t recall how tall the small tree was when Ray planted it over 20 years ago, but it’s reached a height which surpasses its age, with a canopy almost as wide. When in full bloom, its size and splendor prompt visitors to ask, somewhat in awe, “What is that?” I reply, “It’s a crape myrtle. That’s what they can look like if you don’t commit ‘crape murder’.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “crape murder” refers to the severe and unnecessary pruning of these lovely trees, usually in late winter. Although some early cultivars supposedly produced more blooms after such treatment, most of those used today flower just as well without being subjected to such torture. I cringe when the annual amputations begin, envisioning the tiny new branches which will sprout from the large remaining limbs, much like fingers emerging from a shoulder. I’m thankful I only committed this crime once, the winter after Ray died, when I was still trying to figure out how to take care of the garden treasures I’d inherited. Fortunately, I quickly learned making my crape myrtle look like everyone else’s was not the thing to do!

(Ok, I’m stepping down from that soap box so I can return to the story at hand . . .)

My hort mentor sometimes speaks of plants as having single-season or multiple-season interest, not that one kind is better than the other, just different in its appeal. The first category includes plants such as spring-flowering specimens or those with vibrant fall color which take center stage for a few weeks each year and then play more of a supporting role in the landscape until time for them to burst forth and captivate us once again. I would put my crape myrtle in the latter category, as it has something to offer year-round. Some might question the beauty of the leafless branches, but the leftover seed pods contribute textural interest throughout the winter. Sometimes I even get to see the limbs decorated with a layer of snow. Beginning in the spring, the massive canopy provides shelter for numerous birds and shade for the southeast side of my house. In the summer, its flowers attract a variety of pollinators that dart in and out of the blossoms, creating a low humming as they go about their task. Then there’s its aesthetic value. My tree was so floriferous this year, its flower-filled branches resembled a cascade of blossoms. In late summer, the bark starts to exfoliate, peeling off to reveal the new layer underneath. The process can be a bit alarming to the uninitiated since it almost looks like the tree is falling apart, but exfoliation is one of the characteristics I most like about my crape myrtle.

002And, in case you’re wondering, it’s the feature that inspired the spiritual tie-in for this post. As I’ve watched the bark begin to peel away this season, exposing the beautiful surface beneath, I’ve been reminded of the mandates in Scripture to “put off the old and put on the new”, a concept so important I’ll dedicate a separate essay to it. Today, I’m grateful for a thoughtful husband who chose just the right plant and for a loving Father who’s sustained it and me across all the years since He called him Home.


6 thoughts on “Ode to a crape myrtle

  1. In our country house a number of years ago Rod planted 50 crape myrtles. Every year he insisted on performing crape murder on them leaving me with the fun job of gathering up and hauling out all the trimmings. After moving here we had one planted in our front yard. He still insisted on cutting it back every year until his health reached the point he couldn’t trim it. It is now a beautiful tree. Several times this summer he commented on how pretty it was and how it had bloomed. He would then say he guess he shouldn’t have been pruning them so much all the time. Crape Myrtles will always remind me of him. They were his favorite.

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