The Gifts of Crape Myrtle

pink crepe myrtle

Our town is aflame with crape myrtle at the moment. It’s everywhere you turn, lighting up merchant streets, neighbors’ yards and sidewalk strips with vibrant colors. The lovely crape myrtle tree has a special place in my heart, as it takes me back immediately and always to those days when Grandma was in her nursing home in Sonoma. Many of the ladies in the home used to gather each afternoon in the large sunny lobby, looking out through floor to ceiling windows and large glass doors. They poignantly had placed themselves in the best position to see who came and went. It was the hub of unexpected activity. They also enjoyed a ringside view of the quiet sidewalk and street out front. Perhaps someone was pulling into the parking lot, or a child was walking by with a dog, or a group of children were walking to school. One never knew. While there was a well cared for lawn in front, and large, shady trees and several bushes, there was not really a lot of color, I noticed. Between the sidewalk and street was a wide strip of lush green grass, always well trimmed, but I began to see it as an open canvas, begging for a new look, enhancing the view of the clutch of older women who kept their vigil in the lobby. Hmmm…

As fate would have it, I happened upon a sale one afternoon of small crape myrtle trees, each sporting pink or rose or lilac flowers. And I noticed immediately that they were remarkably well priced.
crepe myrtle sale

Inspiration and boldness struck, and I rang the nursing home and asked to speak to the head nurse, with whom I had a very caring relationship, and who had decision-making authority.

“Pam? This is Kathryn. Guess what?”
“What?”
“I’m at a nursery down on Highway 12 and they have crape myrtle trees on sale. Yes, that’s right! Can I buy some? I can? How many?”

Five!

So I did. Now to get them “home.” I always say that an Explorer Sport is like those teeny cars I used to see as a child at circuses. The doors would burst open and twenty clowns would tumble out. Anything fits in an Explorer I have said a thousand times. So in the Explorer the five trees went, yes, they did, and off I drove to the nursing home to deliver! Within days the gardener in attendance had put them all in place in the wide lawn strip to begin their lives within the view of many elderly folks living out their last days in that nursing home. It is nearly eight years since they were planted. My witnessing of the crape myrtle here in my town kindles the warm knowledge that several dear souls are down in Sonoma enjoying same, simply because of a moment of inspiration bestowed on a loving granddaughter who sought to make her Grandmother’s last home as beautiful as she had always been accustomed. The ripples of that love spill into the lives of others’ grandmothers today.

In honor of that sweet memory I was moved to capture the spirit of the benevolent crape myrtle to share with all of you.

crepe myrtle

crepe myrtle

crepe myrtle

crepe myrtle
crepe myrtle

I was touched that this last one is sporting its next incarnation: berries. I love that as a metaphor, don’t you? Life goes on in its new form.

crepe myrtle

And so it continues, this spirit of benevolence with which we are all blessed, should we merely turn our attention inward and listen to the whisperings of our open gentle hearts. Oh, my dears, how the world needs you and your own inspirations. Listen and dare to act.

With love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxoox

35 Responses to “The Gifts of Crape Myrtle”

  1. Dear Kathryn,
    This shrub is so beautiful – we can’t grow it here because of cold winters, however its beauty makes some people to try it. Seeds are popular on auction website. I was one of them :) No success. On gardening forum some other people were asking questions about it.
    Your story about nursery house touched me so much – what a good thing to do.
    Kisses/Ewa

  2. A very sweet, touching story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi, dear Ewa, Well, when I read your comment I was thinking first of the distinction between the tree and the shrub, thinking perhaps the shrub did not do well in Poland, but then found this on the Net:

    “fast-growing dwarf types of less than two feet which can go from seed to bloom in a season (allowing gardeners in places where the plant is not winter hardy to still enjoy the intense colors of the frilly flowers)”

    So perhaps you can try the “dwarf type” referred to here? Perhaps other readers will know and comment. When I looked it up for zones, it certainly does seem to grow even in New England.

    How cold DOES it get in Poland?? If it’s like Holland, yeah, probably no crape myrtle! :(

    Hugs!
    Kathryn xoxo

  4. Welcome, Michael. Thank you. Kathryn

  5. What a gift, indeed! Just Lovely! I remember when you planted those crape myrtle trees for Bestamor! Now the funny synchronicity is that there is a plant out in front of my house, the name of which I was trying to ask you recently… care to guess what that is? :D LOL
    Beautiful pics, sweet story reflecting your shining light and the difference we can all make. Thank you!
    Love you,
    Antonia
    xoxox

  6. Hi, Antonia! Thank you! I love that the tree out front is a crape myrtle! Take a photo and send! Must see!
    Love you, Sweetie, Mommie D. xoxoox

  7. What a lovely way to remember your grandmother & all the other grandmothers. The Crepe Myrtles here are in their full glory too. They are my favorite summer tree. The amazing shades of color bring such a punch of color to any setting. A true southern belle.

  8. Hi, PerennialGardenLover, PUNCH is the perfect word! I’m glad you are enjoying them in your setting, too! Warmly, Kathryn xox

  9. I had no idea it came in so many different colours. I saw Crepe Myrtle for my first (and only) time last year in California. So lovely. I loved your story of brightening the days of the nursing-home residents. Thanks.

  10. Hello, GreenishLady, thank you for your visit. So, no crape myrtle [spelled both ways, btw] in Ireland, I take it? I appreciate your stopping by and glad you enjoyed the photos. Warmly, Kathryn xoxo

  11. Thank you for showing me a new plant, I have never seen crape myrtle in the UK. Looking it up I think it may well grow but our summers are not hot enough for it to flower! I have found other plants that grow well in colder US zones than we have but I can’t grow them, I think this is because we don’t have very hot long summers (even in a good year) and our winters are mild but don’t have a lot of day light (short days and gray skies). Perhaps someone will start experimenting with varieties of crape myrtle and find one that will flower reliably in our climate because this looks like a lovely plant.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  12. Hi Kathryn,

    I wrote an article for Oklahoma Gardender recently about crapemyrtles. There are two types, and here is a link for Ewa to the National Arboretum: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/crapemyrtlefaq2.html I love your story about the inspiration which led you to get them for your grandmother’s nursing home. Thank you.~~Dee

  13. Dear Sylvia, Welcome! Your note reminds me of the three years I lived in Holland. Oh, those short days. Brrrr. :) Yet all these places have their own unique beauty, and think how the UK is always associated with beautiful gardens–apparently just not bearing crape myrtle. I wonder if there is some variety that would do, as we were discussing with Ewa? Thanks for the visit and the UK input! Kathryn xoxo

  14. Crepe myrtles are such marvelous plants! I grew up with them in my native Tennessee as sturdy shrubs, was surprised to find them here when i moved to Pennsylvania (in a tougher, shorter form), and was astounded a couple of weekes ago to see them trained as sizeable trees everywhere I went in North Carolina. Wow. I’m so glad you were able to give the gift of them to your Grandma’s nursing home. What a great idea!!!

  15. Hi, Dee, I’d love to see that article! Thanks for the link.I’m sure Ewa will appreciate! Kathryn xoxo

  16. Our friend Ben, welcome! Now my curiosity has gotten me to google “crape myrtle”+”Europe”.I’ve just read that they can be grown to -15 degrees F. So there must be varieties for most of our varied climates. (Ewa, we’re working on it!) :) Thanks for the broad view, OFB, on where we find there here in the States! Kathryn xooxo

  17. Dear Kathryn,
    What a lovely thing to do!
    Enjoyment of flowers is so healing, and I know you have brought joy to many grandmothers over the years with that delightful impulse!
    You know, I have not really paid much attention to crape myrtle before. It is spectacular!
    :)
    Regards,
    Philip

  18. Hi, Philip! Thank you! It is a most beautiful tree, and when found in abundance they are rather hard to ignore! But even one is a joy to behold. Kathryn xoxo

  19. Oh, Kathryn, what a lovely tale. You grandmother was a blessed woman. The photographs are beautiful. I, too, adore crape myrtle. And thank you for your encouragement to listen to my inward gentle voice. Can’t hear that too much! I so tend to forget. :)
    Hugs,
    CA

  20. Hi, CurtissAnn! Thank you so much. Those were very special years, for sure. And, yes, we all need to keep reminding each other of the importance of being still. Distractions abound! :) Kathryn xoxo

  21. Oh Kathryn—when I come here and read your post—-my breathing changes and I’m all caught up in the life of everyone involved. I will heed your challenge and find something to do that will be everlasting and thank you for that. I love crepes and have planted 7 already in my new yard. I hope they grow up to be just like the ones in your pics above. I had them at my former home and miss them badly. One was a Natchez and it was more grand than any I’ve seen. Thanks for another awesome visit to your love of life.

  22. Welcome, Anna. Thank you so much for your kind comments. I’m so glad you have surrounded yourself with crape myrtle! Yes, it’s so true when we move from one environ to the next there are certain plants we miss and try to recreate. I miss Texas sage and Baja fairydusters from my AZ home and am thinking I will try them here. Why not?? Hugs. Kathryn xoxo

  23. Received from my cousin Julie by email and copied here w/ her permission (as I thought it was funny!):

    The crape myrtle photos were wonderful. We see it growing as far north as Charleston and Huntington West Virginia but not here. It always reminds me of spring lilacs on steroids because the color range is similar but brighter for the crape myrtle and from a distance, the shrubs look something alike in bloom.

  24. When I moved to Texas from Wisconsin, the first plant that stole my heart was a crape myrtle. The flowers reminded me of lilacs, and I love lilacs. The first plants I put in the ground when I bought my house were white crape myrtles. They’re gorgeous in the summer, yellow-leafed in the fall, and have smooth, tropical-looking bark the rest of the year. They make me very happy. :)

  25. Hi, Lori, I’m so glad crape myrtle has found its way into your southern garden! Try Texas sage! (You probably already have, right?) I love it as it attracts so many bees it’s a virtual chorus. Oh, I LOVE that!!
    Enjoy that white crape myrtle. It sounds very elegant! Kathryn xoxo

  26. What a beautiful thing to do! Good for you!
    We have crepe myrtles here in India too and they look gorgeous blooming in summer. But I’ve never seen the deep pink coloured one.

    Did you know we have a bigger tree called Pride of India which has blooms which look quite similar to the crepe myrtle but they’re bigger. The leaves are bigger too. Its a real stop-you-in-your-tracks tree when its full bloom in summer. The dried seed pods look great in dry arrangements too.

  27. Welcome, Sunita! I googled Pride of India. It’s Lagerstroemia, same family as crape myrtle. It looks like supersized crape myrtle! WOW! Lucky you. :) I wonder if it would grow in Northern California?It looks like it might. I will check it out. The deep pink colored one is the most common here. The whites and lavenders are less common. Actually I was surprised to find the red one. I’d never seen the red one before this shoot. Thanks for the Pride of India tip! Kathryn xoxo

  28. So it really is red? I wasnt sure whether my eyes were getting weak and I was seeing dark pink as red : D
    I hope the Pride of India grows and blooms well for you. I ‘ve planted a purple one and a pink one in my own garden but while the purple blooms beautifully every year, the pink one has yet to bloom for me.

  29. Hi, Sunita! Yes, fifth photo down is red as red can be. Perhaps it looks slightly different on your computer? Sometimes colors vary from screen to screen and browser to browser.:) Kathryn xox

  30. Delighted to read about your lovely memories & see those Crape Myrtle trees. My circus car was an old Honda Civic hatchback – used to carry as many plants as I could stuff in, plus my Saint Bernard Winchester. Have graduated to a Honda CRV these days, and you would be impressed at my hauling abilities. Sadly, there won’t be any of those beautiful myrtles on my back seat – our winters are just too brutal.

  31. Welcome, Barbarapc! Ah-ha! You know about the Car Trick! Very impressive, esp. with the St. Bernard! Yes, I’m afraid the crape myrtles are more the domain of the warmer climates, to be enjoyed with photos, at least! Thanks for the visit! Kathryn xox

  32. What a beautiful site. I came to the site because of your article about the Grace Hudson museum and Indian uses of plants. I write about Indians of northwest California so I frequently google the words California Indians. Everything you write is beautiful and so full of joy – I love it! This piece on crape myrtles caught my eye because it reminded me of Lodi, California where these plants are on almost every street. I am in Nebraska now and am trying to learn in crape myrtle will survive these harsh winters. What do you or your readers know about certain names I can look for? Patricia B.

  33. Hi, Patricia B. Thank you so much! I just read an interesting book about some of the Indians of Lake and Mendocino Counties. I’m not sure which crape myrtles will withstand colder climates, but they do exist! Google? Kathryn xoox

  34. i live in northern ireland. would the crape myrtle grow well in our climate. really cold winters with plenty of wind and moderate summers averaging about 20 degrees ?

  35. Hi, Louise, and welcome! You were not alone in wanting to include crape myrtles in your garden in colder climates. I do believe there are some species that might make it in colder climates, but you will have to check with your local horticulturists to find out. (Don’t let the nursery people sell you a crape myrtle not appropriate for your locale!) :) Good luck! Kathryn xoxo

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