Every July, the crepe myrtles make me, well, if not melancholy, at least pensive. Their blossoms, in pink, purple, and stark, clean white, brave the Georgia heat and provide a clear contrast to the deep green of high summer in the South.
Even the hardy day lilies, in their myriad of colors that open each day to the light and close each evening, don’t offer the impact of a 20-foot-tall crepe myrtle shouting summertime from yards, curbsides and highway medians across the state.
Having grown up with few flowering plants other than a lonely bed of petunias, I didn’t get to know a crepe myrtle until I bought my first house. Moving in November, all I saw were naked branches in the island between the sidewalk and the curb. “What in the world is that ugly cluster of sticks?” I thought to myself and proceeded to clip them to the ground and drive over them with my lawnmower.
But spring came quickly, as it does in Georgia, and soon sprouts were shooting up from the ground, healthier and hardier than ever. If those bushes could come back to life, who was I to try to get rid of them? Then, in July, I knew why they had been planted to welcome visitors to the front of my house. The deep pink blossoms covered their branches while the fogs of steam rose off the sidewalks and other blossoming plants retreated to the shade of their foliage to await cooler days.
In that first house, I didn’t pay too much attention to the other plantings. Living in Georgia, I expected the dogwoods and azaleas each spring, soon after the first brave daffodils poked their bright yellow heads from the earth. There was a peony bush in back, but rookie gardener that I was, I didn’t know that cutting the blossoms for a bouquet was a big mistake until the ants that made their home inside the pretty white blooms ventured out to inhabit my dining room.
Being an Auburn graduate, I took special interest in the tiger lilies. But I didn’t pay enough attention to taking care of the flower beds, which soon became overrun with weeds, a nightmare for the previous owner who had lovingly planted and tilled the soil. Even so, the crepe myrtles thrived, and the blossoms rewarded me each summer for work I had not done.
Other the years, I vowed to do better. Two years after I married, we moved to a larger house on a big piece of property. There, a gardener had maintained the remnants of a farm, and planted carefully. Moving in July, I was greeted by a path of crepe myrtles in their full glory, lining the long driveway to the old farmhouse.
I thought that fate had declared I become a gardener. I watched the maple tree turn orange in the fall and the variegated red camellias weigh down their bushes with blooms during the short days of midwinter. I even bought gardening books, with all the best intentions.
Fate, however, had another idea. That spring, my daughter was born, and very quickly I learned there would be little time to dig in the dirt. We hired someone to sit atop the riding lawn mower, but that became the extent of our gardening efforts, except to gratefully pick bunches of daffodils each March and admire the azaleas every April. Watching the flowers, I soon discovered the magic that the previous gardener had left behind. One midsummer day, I stopped in my tracks and looked around. I began to count the months and the blossoms, and realized the brilliance of the gardener’s work. As I calculated, I discovered that because of his planning, something bloomed every month of the year.
Some camellias bloomed from November through January. In February, the first crocus popped up from the dirt like tiny purple and yellow jacks-in-the-box, surprising us with their rapid growth. In March, the month I brought my daughter home from the hospital, an ancient pink camellia opened its blooms just in time for her birthday. And of course, there were the daffodils, and in April the azaleas, followed quickly by the white and pink dogwoods. By late May, the magnolia blossoms opened, sending their scent wafting into the open windows through the month of June.
The summer months brought the crepe myrtles, retreating only when the leaves began to turn and the deciduous trees turned from green to orange, red and yellow. In late summer and early fall there were the black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers and daylilies, before the yard was washed with autumn color from the maples, yellow poplars, oaks, and even the black walnut tree by the driveway.
The years have passed quickly, and both my children, who grew up playing in that colorful garden, are grown and on their own.
Now, my house is on a small lot carefully filled with perennials and flowering trees. Low maintenance is the buzzword for a homeowner with a very busy life.
But with a little time to spare, and a love of sitting outside surrounded by nature’s glory, I’m beginning to design a small garden around my patio. Now I’ll fill it with perennials, perhaps a Japanese maple, and a water feature — flowing water over rocks so I can hear the splashing sound as I relax in the shade. I may even be brave enough to attempt a few roses.
The one thing I know is that the pure white crepe myrtle that spreads its branches over my driveway will remain rooted in place. Through all the years and all the homes, crepe myrtles have remained in my path, and made me smile every summer as I wiped away the sweat from a long, hot day.
Like my friends, they come in many shapes, sizes and colors, but they send down their roots in the Georgia clay, and open their blossoms on the hottest days of the year. Tough times don’t phase my favorite of all flowering trees. They just soak up whatever nourishment they can get and share their beauty with everyone who comes along.