It’s that most glorious time of the year, when Grumpy and his fans shame neighbors, cities, businesses, and “landscrapers” for committing crepe murder—the senseless practice of reducing beautiful crepe myrtles to ugly stumps in winter and spring. As instructed, readers snuck around with their smart phones and captured some truly epic crimes this year. Out of those, we selected 9 winners for Crepe Murder 2017, all of whom will receive a signed copy of Grumpy’s new book when it comes out this fall!
I love this first winner sent in by Marty Confray, because not only is it horrific to look at, but it also helps to answer that age-old question, “How did crepe murder get started?” Marty took this photo in Germany, somewhere along the Rhine River. The pruning practice it reveals predates the settling of America, and proves that Europeans can be wrong for a very long time.
The discipline is called “pollarding,” in which major limbs of trees are cut back to the same points every fall and winter, producing gnarled, tumor-like fists that seem to scream with rage. Europeans started doing this for three principle reasons. First, most gardens there are small compared to ours, so big trees must be kept in check. Two, the butchered trees look strangely sculptural in a way—perhaps like Rodin’s most famous work, “Coat Hangers.” Three, fast-growing trees were cut like this in fall and winter for firewood. Severely pruned trees grow long, straight shoots destined for the stove or fireplace.
I’m sure your neighbors now heat their homes with crepe myrtles.
Just about every time Grumpy rails against crepe murder, somebody who has traveled in Europe trots out pollarding as an excuse. ‘It’s an art form,” they say. Well, if it is, it’s an art form easily mastered by any oaf with a chain saw and a ladder. The person who first brought this crime to our sacred shores should have been pollarded as well.
Because the photo is so illustrative of the historical reasons for doing something awful, I’m going to overlook the fact that I think these pollarded trees aren’t really crepe myrtles. Crepe myrtles don’t grow well in northern Europe. My guess is that these are London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia), the European counterparts to our native sycamores.
Now you know why Europe looks the way it does and why we shouldn’t copy it. Crepe murder isn’t an art form. It’s why “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts are made and sold.
If you inadvertently ran over a priceless Rembrandt with your bush hog, would you kick the bush hog? No, you would not. You would simply retrieve the splinters from the painting, dig a hole in the middle of the field, bury them in an unmarked grave, and place a tube of Rembrandt smoker’s toothpaste atop the mantel and hope nobody notices the difference.
Just as it wasn’t the bush hog’s fault you moved the painting to the wrong place, it is not a crepe myrtle’s fault when you plant it in the wrong place. In most cases, this means planting it too close to the house, in front of low windows, or where it doesn’t have room to spread out. It pays the penalty of crepe murder anyway. Just look at this example in Scottsboro, Alabama sent in by Valerie Snodgrass. It’s our second winner in Crepe Murder 2017!
Here the homeowners made the all-too-common mistake of planting a tall-growing crepe myrtle directly in front of a window, instead of the middle of the lawn where it belongs. Instead of moving it to a proper location, their answer to this conundrum is cutting it off just below the bottom of the window every year. Which makes no sense. This cuts into valuable beer-drinking time.
Listen to me now and remember it later. Before planting a crepe myrtle, find out what its mature size will be. (Note: Most crepe myrtles in the South grow about five feet taller than plant tags say they will.) Some crepe myrtles are bushes, growing six feet tall or less; others become small trees from 10 to 15 feet tall; and other become quite large, topping out at 30 to 35 feet tall and nearly as wide. Planting a giant crepe myrtle like white ‘Natchez,’ light-pink ‘Biloxi,’ or deep-pink ‘Miami’ near the house almost guarantees future crepe murder.
So if you’d rather not butcher an innocent crepe myrtle every year, plant a smaller selection that won’t outgrow its space. Among Grumpy’s top picks for shorter crepe myrtles: ‘Acoma’ (white, 6 to 10 feet), ‘Catawba’ (purple, 12 to 15 feet), Early Bird Purple (purple, 5 to 8 feet), the Magic Series (many colors, 6 to 10 feet), ‘Pink Velour’ (neon-pink 10 to 12 feet), ‘Siren Red’ (dark red, 8 to 10 feet), ‘Velma’s Royal Delight’ (purple, 4 to 6 feet), and ‘Zuni’ (medium lavender, 6 to 10 feet).
Congratulations, Valerie! For sending me an entry showing why most crepe murders are perpetrated, you win a signed copy of Grumpy’s new book, due out this fall.
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Like many people, you may think that social media is a waste of time. That’s why you need Grumpy to reassure you that spending 18 hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is the only way today’s lazy gardener can survive.
Case in point. In most places where people spend upwards of three hours a day not posting, liking, sharing, or stealing, they think crepe murder must be a product of their own misguided labor. How sad. Our next winner in Crepe Murder 2017, Marianne Jenkins, show us just how sad with this screen capture of the home page of (name redacted for obvious reasons) in Birmingham, Alabama. No longer must you haul your loppers and saw outside every year and spend dozens of seconds mauling crepe myrtles yourself. For just $40, you can buy pre-murdered myrtles transported from various sites around town! Now you know the real reason Birmingham is called the Magic City.
For her valiant efforts to remind us all that social media isn’t a reflection of life, but life itself, we are going to send Marianne a signed copy of Grumpy’s new book due out this fall. She’ll find out via tweet.