As Sydney is starting to feel a little chillier in the mornings and we start to think about donnas and blankets a little more, I’m starting to look for the first leaves to turn in Autumn. If you design your garden well, you can probably experience something spectacular in each season of the year. While Spring and Summer are known for their floral tributes, it’s autumn that provides some of the most spectacular colour courtesy of turning foliage.
While the Crepe Myrtle (or Crape Myrtle if you’re in the US) doesn’t have the most spectacular autumn foliage, when you package together it’s other attributes it becomes a tree that’s hard to bypass if you’re after something small and spectacular. It’s summer flowers are the most spectacular part of the Crepe Myrtle, but it’s the smooth and sculptural bark and trunk that I love. When most deciduous trees are looking a bit skeletal, the Crepe Myrtle feels much more artistic. I love that this deciduous tree doesn’t have a bad season. Spring brings new growth and vibrant budding leaves, summer has spectacular floral colour, autumn brings the turning leaves and in winter, you have a great garden sculpture.
The Crepe Myrtle is the living, growing proof that good things come in small packages, as it rarely grows taller than 6-8m, and it prunes well, so you can control the growth to what you and your garden need.
So here’s the Crepe Myrtle low down…
Name: Lagerstroemia indica – There are a heap of different varieties so check out what’s available at your local nursery to find the one that’s right for you. The main variation is the flower colour, so it’s pretty easy to co-ordinate with the rest of your planting design.
Description: A small deciduous tree that provides a spectacular floral display. Flowers range from white through to vibrant hot pink. The Crepe Myrtle is native to Asia, and grows exceptionally well through most of Australia.
What you’ll love about them: There is just so much to love about the Crepe Myrtle. If you are after a smaller tree, then this fits the bill perfectly. It is great for small gardens and courtyards, and can be pruned and trained to fit into any situations. The flowers are spectacular and come in a range of colours from white through to mauves and vibrant pinky reds. I love the sculptural trunks that become more twisted and gnarled as they get older. The list of pros for the Crepe Myrtle is long and impressive, which is why it’s a tree that I always find myself recommending.
There are some spectacular old Crepe Myrtle trees in the heritage suburbs of Sydney, and it looks equally at home in a new and more modern landscape. Flexible, adaptable, easy and very very pretty, this is a great tree.
What they love: Crepe Myrtles aren’t too fussy. They like a nice drink of water and an open aspect, though can really grow anywhere as long as their toes don’t get too wet. They like a good haircut in winter too. Keeping the tree pruned will promote larger flower sprays, so prune back when they lose their leaves, though do be careful to maintain the tree’s shape and avoid a “hacked back” look.
The not so great bits: Yes, it is deciduous, so there is a little bit of leaf drop once a year, and yes if it worries you, you might have to clean up the leaves. It also does better if you give it a bit of a prune every few years. If you don’t like leaf drop or pruning, it’s not for you, but to be honest, I see this as very little pain for whole lot of gain. Some of the older varieties are also prone to powdery mildew, but newer varieties are resistant to this. The good definitely outweigh the bad on this gem of a deciduous tree.
If you prefer something a bit more home grown: There aren’t a lot of deciduous natives, particularly with all that the Crepe Myrtle has going for it, but you could try the White Cedar (Melia azederach). The White Cedar is a small deciduous tree native to northern Australia and areas of Asia, and has a really nice floral display, but doesn’t really have the autumn colour or sculptural trunk that the Crepe Myrtle has.