Gardening GlimpsesBy MRS. HERMAN MCKENZIE,
Other than the crepe myrtles I talked about in last week’s column, we grow one other named variety, ‘Country Girl.’ Some summer, when we first finished the original picket fence, I went searching the nurseries for four fairly identical plants, and this one, a fairly deep red, was the only one to be found. So I bought them, and planted them within the corners of the picket fence, and they have done well. They grow fine; some years they bloom better than others.
But that is the nature of the crepe myrtle. It reaches for the sun, and it thrives on rainfall. And clearly the combination of warm sun every day, with some downpour to rely upon before nightfall, has produced the greatest display of crepe myrtles all around the neighborhoods and the shopping centers that we’ve had in several seasons. (Which leads me to hope that the summers-into-October of 2011 and the three years following are an anomaly rather than a result to be expected most years.)
The crepe myrtle is the city flower of Jackson, and is widely planted everywhere. A bit of horticultural history: if you would see some of the originals, go to Middleton Plantation in South Carolina, and enjoy the now-midsized trees that survived where the antebellum mansion did not.
Of course I love this plant, for which my McNeil grandparents’ country home five miles out of Natchez is named, “Myrtle Grove Farm.” And I like it best when pruned to highlight and feature the strong-limbed trees.
The ‘Natchez’ volunteer seedling, which is now putting on a show outside the upstairs windows, gives me a vantage point on the way this plant grows, produces buds, blooms, withers and dies, and then blooms again. I may not be too happy next December with the bare twigs, but that is the price you pay for a belief that these trees should not only be allowed to grow wherever they please, but a commitment to the no-pruning policy.
Vicki McKay, wearing one of her many caps, that of gardener-in-training, knows she is about to learn how you prune this fairly large young tree upward, but she doesn’t suspect she may also be about to break one of the rules (working guidelines) I’ve long operated on.
It has been my experience that you cannot get rid of a crepe myrtle by cutting it off at ground level and going on to other chores. Nor can you successfully dig it up and transplant it.
So probably Vicki is going to tackle the first one with our newly-proved policy for dealing with any weed tree: cut it off at several feet high, leaving enough limbs to grab, and twist it out of the ground. She was so good at this, and strong, that the first one came right out of the ground, landing her in a sitting position, and both of us laughing. So we decided, especially since the upheaval brought up a lot of little daffodil bulbs we would have preferred to stay undisturbed, that next time, we’d get it almost up, then snip around the now partly severed roots. This works fine.
But then I thought, why not experiment? These aren’t too big, yet; so why not try to dig them up and plant them somewhere else. Working alone, in previous summers, I couldn’t do it. But I bet she can, and can also dig a couple of holes somewhere (and I know just where) to put them right into the ground. (We might even stop Pete, Vicky’s husband, in a “break” moment, and get him to dig a couple of planting holes for us.
She asked me, “How many different crepe myrtles are there?”
I didn’t know, and wasn’t near either a computer or a bookshelf, but told her it was nowhere near the number of named daffodil cultivars in existence, over 30,000, neatly listed in the fabulous DaffSeek website.
“But I do know this,” I told her, “the leading garden writer in the South, Michael Dirr, in his book which is a bible for serious home landscapers, ‘Trees for the South’ devotes 27 pages to pictures of all the different kinds he grows. And he voted with his backhoe, also, lining both sides of the long driveway approaching his home with ‘Tuscarora,’ limbing them up to highlight the bark structure.”
‘Natchez,’ the very prolific white, is almost too strong a grower.
On succeeding trips to our favorite vacation destination, Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, we loved a great specimen of ‘Natchez’ at a junction in the pathways at the Sibley Center, only to mourn its loss the next year. Some harried intern said, “It was just taking over…look how many different things we can grow in that space.” (“None of them worth looking at,” I muttered.)
Our weekend project, which is going rather well, the dealing with a sinkhole on the edge of the front slope, is going to become a three-person project. If it is successful, we will probably have to write it up as the Syracuse Sinkhole Reclamation, as Pete, a native of Connecticut, studied forestry at Syracuse, before coming South.
The one crepe myrtle involved, a ‘Tuscarora,’ was purchased at the nursery on sale (“No, I don’t need the larger size,”) with just enough attention to the bloom to ascertain it was correctly labeled, and then a persistent attack on the various little twigs and sprouts, working upward from the bottom. Just the job for someone with patience and creativity, who can spend two minutes snipping for every ten minutes stepping back and saying “Hmmmm,” from several angles. I know Vicki will be good at this, as I’ve watched her create chraming flower arrangements from the Kroger flower shop’s sale bin just this way.