Saturday, December 8, 2012

Crape Charisma

'Centennial Spirit'
The increased number of warmer and dryer winters in Kansas, to say nothing of the hellishly hot and arid summers, is forcing a similar slow adaptation of the gardener to the flaming reality of climate change.  From a glass-half-full perspective, it also offers some previously underperforming plants a chance to shine, a brief time of their own in the spotlight.  In my garden, it is the crape myrtles that are beginning to steal the harsh spotlight of late summer.

Fifteen years ago, I tried and lost a few crape myrtles, placed here seemingly north of their native ranges.  They would grow and look nice for a summer, and then even when they survived a winter, they struggled during the subsequent growing season and then expired the next.  Even when I attempted a more hardy variety, like the National Arboretum release 'Tonto', it froze back to the ground each winter and returned in spring as a short bush.  In contrast, over the last five years, every Lagerstroemia I've put into the ground has seemingly flourished, sometimes emerging through the winter whole, sometimes with a little die-back, but always healthy.  The big summer advantage of crape myrtles, as any good sweet-talking southern belle could tell you, is that the dainty flowers don't crinkle in dryness or fade in heat, they just bloom on and on.

'Centennial Spirit'
Lagerstroemia indica ‘Centennial Spirit’, pictured above and left, remains my favorite of the bunch for its shocking red flowers and reddish-orange fall foliage.   In early August, every eye in my garden is drawn to the bright crimson and bodies tend to stray in that direction unbidden by conscious mind but controlled by happy feet.  Take a close look at the picture to the left. This past August, in the worst of the drought, even the daylily at the foot of this bush was having a tough time of it, shedding leaves and conserving its resources, but 'Centennial Spirit' is lush and bountiful, laughing at the worst of the heat.

Lagerstroemia 'Natchez' is a variety that is quickly growing on me.  This perfectly white specimen was planted 2 summers back as a one gallon plant purchased at summer's end for $2.  Despite the poor nutritional start to its young life, it has bounced back, with no winter die-back for two years, and it threatens to overshadow the witch hazel that growing nearby.  The summer centerpiece of this bed of daylilies, it seems to shine like a queen over its subjects, poor peasants at its feet.

I grow other crapes of course.  I've previously mentioned dwarf 'Cheery Dazzle' and 'Tonto', and both have their places in my garden,   I even grow an unknown variety or two, like the lavender variety pictured at the left.  This one was a purloined clone of a specimen displaced for road work, and I think it is probably the common variety 'Royalty'.   Its exact identity may never be known, but it is rapidly growing on me, like my other crapes, as the summers become longer and hotter and winter disappears into memory. 


  1. I have several crapes, but Natchez is probably my favorite. If you have to suffer a few hotter days to have these in your garden, I think the trade-off is worth it! ;)

  2. I have three Natchez in my yard and I love them. I really like the brighter colors of other varieties but I find they are harder to work with color-wise when they are tree sized! The Natchez is hardy, reliable and the white is neutral.


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