An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

July 15, 2009

Second Annual City Wide Bloom Day

Ask a gardener to name their favorite tree, flower, or any other plant, and you are likely to hear something vague like "whatever is in bloom today", or " maybe I can give you my top 5". In honor of this month's bloom day, I am going out on a limb (so to speak) and declare that the Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is without question my favorite tree. I have also decided that from now on, July's Bloom Day post at A Tidewater Gardener will be all about Crape Myrtles. You can learn more about these trees (and how integrated they are in nearly every streetscape and landscape in Norfolk) at the the First Annual City Wide Bloom Day.

Let's start this year's tour at home. Some Crapes across the street make a nice backdrop for my garden and in other shots you can see what we see from our second floor in July (click to enlarge any photo, I'm sorry you can't click to smell the blossoms).

These are growing at Larchmont Elementary School...

... and at nearby Maury High School.
Earlier this year, Maury High School lost one of its students. Charles Humphrey was captain of the football team and co-captain of the basketball team. He was fatally shot by another teen, in the early morning hours next to Park Place Methodist Church. A Crape Myrtle across from the church became an impromptu memorial.

Norfolk is a diverse city where in some areas the struggle to reach adulthood is full of obstacles, and mere blocks away are neighborhoods of private school and privilege. But don't get the wrong impression, this city is not one way of life or the other, there is a lot in between as well. The thing I have always found so peculiar with the city is how quickly you go in and out and back in again through differing pockets of life.

Please allow me to digress for a moment - yet again. The last shot was taken at a very humble shopping center near my house with some intensely colored Crape Myrtles. Other than the trees, the only reason I go there is because it is home to the nearest Alphabet store. In Virginia you have to buy your liquor from the state and at locations spread far apart, where only recently they have started to behave and resemble actual retail stores. This ABC store is special because it is right next to the railroad tracks leading to the coal piers. When the trains go buy, thousands of bottles on shelves start quivering against one another making magical music.

If you would like to see what is blooming around other people's homes and in other cities, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens as she hosts another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.


  1. What a fascinating, and touching bloom day post, Les. So sorry for the friends and family of Charles, what a waste of potential. Growing up with the threat of violence is such a challenge and it sounds as though he was on the right track too, a leader of peers. The memorial crepe has great meaning to the community, I am sure.

    As for those trees, they are widely planted here as well and just coming into bloom. I have done the pruning on young ones in my garden and they are looking good. I love the limbs as much as the flowers. Happy Bloom Day to you!

  2. Good morning Les, I always marvel at all the Crape Myrtles in this area. There are so many great colors and some have more interesting bark than others (Natchez to name one).
    Norfolk is an interesting city- Granby and Ghent are two areas that come to mind.

  3. At first I thought what an unfortunate name for such a beautiful tree. Then I realized I had misread. An -e- can make quite a difference.
    Why not enter that third picture in the flowering tree competition? It is a wonderful shape.

  4. Hey Les, There you go again with another good idea. I too love the CMs. I'm hoping you can help me id the purple one in my garden.

  5. Les, Fantastic trees! You take wonderful big picture views! CM are simply beautiful...we don't have the city plantings like you have, but more gardeners are planting them each summer. I have only one type..Natchez, planted for it's wonderful trunks, but the sweet pink ones I've seen here and there are captivating.

    The loss of a young person is terrible... It is especially cruel when the young person has such promise.


  6. Until I moved to this area 20 something years ago I had never heard of this gorgeous tree. It was one of a few plants I inherited with my current home & I adore it! In fact I almost paid kudos to this summer bloomer in my Bloom Day post today. It was a toss up between it & my 'Limelight'. ;) Thanks for posting some wonderful examples of how much this tree contributes to our area.

  7. "In Virginia you have to buy your liquor from the state and at locations spread far apart"

    Unless of course we make it ourselves in our backyard 'still.

  8. You got some wonderful photos of the crepe myrtle, reminding me not to take this beautiful but commonplace tree for granted.

  9. A city wide bloom day was fun. I love the purples especially. Aren’t you lucky to live amid such splendor.

  10. They are stunning Les. My favorite is the deep red one in the second photo. I rarely prune mine and I've noticed that they are not blooming well this year. I guess I will have to break down and attempt to prune them (but I promise not to "crape murder" them).

  11. Les, a great story and wonderful pictures. As a Norfolk native I have grown up with the 100 days of color every summer. Flying into Norfolk it is a beauty to behold. You have inspired me to head out to Ballentine Blvd for some pictures. Great old Crape Myrtles there.

  12. Frances,
    The story of Charles' death is such a tragic story and apparently it was for no particular reason at all, not that there should be one.

    As for your trees, they should not need a whole lot of pruning

    Although I do not normally like white flowers, Natchez is one of my favorite Crapes, but it's the bark, not the flowers. We are very close to Ghent and the Granby St. bridge is within sight of our neighborhood.

    There is a regional debate going on about the spelling of the common name. Even though they are crepe-like, the powers that be in the horticultural world use crape, so I do too.

    I am working on your ID.

    I have not decided which color I like best, but I do like them mixed.

    You are indeed right about how much this tree contributes to the summer landscape around here. I have lived in other warm climates where they grow, but for some reason they excell here.

    I'll need to consider that and maybe plant more juniper for my homemade gin.

    Thanks for the comments. When my wife and I first lived together we had a balcony apt. that looked out over several nice specimens. We found an old Brownie camera and a source for film and delvoping. We had so much fun photographing the crapes.

    Yes I am lucky and not only for the beauty of the trees around my city.

    I know that weather, winter and climate have a lot to do with how well they bloom. Some years are better than others, and I am sorry they are not at full potential in Bama - it is a good year here though.

    Ballentine is one of our favorite summer drives. Whenever we come back from Military/Janaf or Va. Beach we make a point of detouring down the street.


  13. I love CMs too, they provide so much color and they're practically indestructible. Loved the description of the Alphabet sore too. lol

  14. I really like this post. I wouldn't be caught dead in a liquor store but might visit one like this. The liquor store sounds magical with the tinkling. Such a shame about Charles. Crepe myrtles are my favorite SMALL tree, followed closely by J. maples. Your area of Virginia has the most magnificent specimens anywhere, with NC following closely behind. We were in VA three summers ago and I tell you I just adored the crepes. No wonder you will showcase them each July. A fitting tribute to the queen of the summer trees. Here the crepes are very young and most are grown in shrub form. The folks around here don't know what they are missing until they've seen an avenue of mature crepes, but slowly we might get to that point. Yours are magnificent.

  15. I thought your favorite tree was bald cypress? Oh no.....

  16. Sweetbay,
    Thanks for coming by. I have always wondered why the wood of Crape Myrtles is not used for something. It is hard like iron.

    I am glad you got to see them in their full summer splendor. It is hard to convey just how prevelent they are, it is something you just have to see for yourself.

    Before I made my public declaration, I had to have a series of difficult conversations with Bald Cypress, Japanese Maple, Gingko and So. Magnolia. Some were understanding, but some did not take it so well. In time all wounds heal.


  17. Well, regardless of what the teenagers are doing, it all looks very idyllic there right now!

  18. I love this post, Les, and couldn't agree more about the sentiments expressed; crape myrtles are emblematic of home for me. I'm in Pittsburgh right now visiting family, and most of what's in bloom here has long since faded at home; if we didn't have cm's, late July and August would be depressing months for us in Tidewater. I wish I had space to grow others besides the "Yuma" and "Cedar Red" that have been limbed up so far that the blooms are only visible from the hammock, but my neighbors have got the other varieties pretty well covered.

    BTW- the VA Creeper Trail was fantastic last weekend. Not much exercise (more using the brakes than anything else), but careening through canyons full of blooming rhododendrons and past rushing waterfalls was an amazing experience. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  19. Some of my fondest memories at Clemson U are the summers in college, that auroma says summer unlike any other for me. And the old crepe myrtles on the campus were truly magnificent. The bark, twisted branches and bright colors stand out as clear now as it did 20 some odd years ago

  20. Jeff,
    I am glad you had a good time on the Creeper Trail. It is a special place and a lot of fun too.

    Yes, that smell is something else. Sweet, but not overly so. I also like how the streets, sidewalks and the ground get decorated after heavy rains.


  21. The blooms are breath-taking.

  22. Count me as a fan and this is a touching post. I was even moved by the whiskey bottles dancing. Everyone around here is talking about the lack of Crape Myrtle blooms this year in my part of NC. The trees are blooming but not so plentiful as last year. It's a mystery to some and I think it's our very cool summer. They loved last year's drought and heat.

  23. I've been lurking for a while but just had to say that I've never seen such crape myrtles. I didn't know they got so huge. You mention fragrance-could you describe it? I'm going to try one as a herbaceous perennial, which is the only way I can, living in MI. Do they bloom enough on new wood for me to bother? They are so beautiful!V. Gillman-Michigan-zone 6