Have you been driving around lately and realised you're puttering along at granny speed due to sticky-beaking at all the crepe myrtles that are in bloom? Me too! But worse, I've been pinching teeny cuttings of said flowers... Oooops! Recently when we were up in Sydney, I dragged my hubby around the neighbourhood streets to see if we could collect all the colours in bloom right now - he's very tolerant of my botanical thievery, thank goodness.
Crepe myrtles are the perfect backyard tree in my mind - they obviously have the crazy bursts of flowers in summer that brighten up the garden, attract pollinators and flop all about in a crazy Sideshow Bob kind of madness (to perfect "foraging" height, mind you!), but they are also a beautiful tree when not in flower too. Their mottled bark is lovely at all times of year and is a feature in otherwise bare winter gardens, especially when damp with morning dew. And their foliage, a gorgeous deep glossy green all summer, does a glorious autumn display and turns scarlet.
So, perfect backyard tree, and yet? Until recently we didn't have any in our garden! We have had two shrub varieties in our driveway for some years and I have just this year planted two dwarf varieties in one garden bed, but we have none of the big glorious trees, which is crazy given the size of our garden! My plan is to put another three or four at the very bottom of our terraces, which will add colour and a wind break.
Some garden notes
Botanical name: Lagerstroemia indica // Climate: Will grow well in most climates, from cool mountain through to hot, tropical regions // Height: very variable, so check the label - you can buy the big tree varieties that can grow up to 8m and are not suitable for smaller backyards, but there are also dwarf varieties which only grow to 1m, and shrubs/small tree varieties all sizes in between // Position: full sun // Planting: in well-drained soil, with added compost. Can be planted at any time of year, and although you can buy them as bare-root stock, I think it is best to buy them when they're in flower to make sure that you are getting a colour that you love. They can also be propagated from hardwood cuttings, so if you find one that you absolutely love, see if the owner is happy to part with a piece (this is really way beyond "forager" territory, so it's best to ask!) // Pruning: some people believe that crepe myrtles should be heavily pruned back each year, but really this isn't necessary as they have a natural vase shape when left to do their own thing
To give you some idea of the colours available, these are the varieties we collected around a few Sydney streets... names are my best guess, and there are certainly even more shades in between these ranging from deep cerise through to the much subtler lavenders and white varieties.
Really, with the full range of sizes available and the variety of colour choices, it really is one of the very best backyard plants... Now I just have to take my own advice and plant a few!