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Gardening: Murder most floral

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Woodman spare that crape myrtle.

The beautiful flowering tree of summer is one of the most abused and misunderstood. Many think it’s the namesake of Myrtle Beach, but that’s actually the wax myrtle. A healthy crape myrtle thrives in summer heat and blooms after most of the spring and early summer color is long gone. The trees grow rapidly, and that has been part of their downfall. Owners cut off their tops, leaving strange knuckles on a stump. The practice is so gruesome it has been named “crape murder.”

The time for winter pruning has almost passed, but this weekend offers an opportunity to learn about the crape myrtle from a professional at the Brookgreen Gardens annual spring garden festival. Todd Stephenson of Total Tree Care will demonstrate proper pruning technique — he calls it training the tree — in the Poetry Garden Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

Stephenson said he’s not sure how “crape murder” got started. “It pre-dates my time in the industry,” he said. “Crape myrtles are trees. I think there’s a huge disconnect with the crape myrtle. He’s kind of like Popeye. He am what he am. The crape myrtle is a beautiful medium-sized blooming tree. It doesn’t need anything, to be honest with you. It’s pruning requirements are no different from a dogwood or a redbud. The fact they are getting hacked back is a huge mystery.”

Stephenson said he has narrowed the mystery to three lines of reasoning.

1: It’s copycat. People have seen it done and think they should to it too.

2: The landscaper does it because the customer is telling him.

3: Unscrupulous people are doing it as a source of winter revenue. “Two of the three are ignorance and the third is profiteering,” Stephenson said. “I’ve yet to meet a real proponent of it, someone who says this is just beautiful, the best thing ever. There seems to be some resigned, throw-in-the-towel mentality that I’ve got to do this among the people who own them. It’s the most ironic thing ever because they are paying to have their trees devalued.”

Stephenson said he will go to Brookgreen Saturday to listen. “I’m going to invite everybody in the gardens to explain to me why it’s a good thing,” he said. “It has to be documentable. It has to be researched. I want to hear one guy. I’ve yet to hear why people do these horrible things to these trees. To the best of my knowledge, there’s not a single shred of credible research that suggests it’s a good thing.”

Stephenson said that pruned trees have to re-grow wood. “It’s causing them to allocate resources they shouldn’t have to allocate,” he said. “Let somebody grow a new arm and see how much energy they have left. Then do it again next year. The trees get weakened because they are using energy unnecessarily. Weakened trees are more likely to become infested with bugs. The people complaining about pest problems are the same ones topping trees and making them weak.”

Brookgreen event helps shake off winter’s discontent

Winter gave the Lowcountry cold, rainy, gloomy weather until its last day this week. But spring arrives today, and Brookgreen Gardens’s annual spring garden festival Saturday will provide an opportunity to learn more about gardens and gardening in advance of getting into the dirt.

Among the “Diggin’ It” lecturers will be landscape architects Hugh and Mary Palmer Dargen, who will describe how to make a backyard into a haven for health, social interaction and stress reduction Saturday morning.

The Dargens designed the entrance to Brookgreen Gardens 20 years ago and were on its first Board of Friends.

“The path to good health and longevity can be found right in your own backyard,” Mary Palmer Dargen said during a telephone interview.

She will lecture on her book “Lifelong Landscape Design: Gardens for Health and Longevity” from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. “The way we approach your landscape, whether you are a young person moving to your first home, a family or an elder is to make your outdoor environment work for you,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have or the size of your property. The principles are the same for people to get the highest and best purpose for their property.”

Saturday’s programs will be in the Wall Lowcountry Center auditorium, learning labs and program shed.

Demonstrations in the program shed:

10 a.m. — Tom Frances of Bees by the Sea will speak on beekeeping techniques, highlighting their significant role in the natural world. He keeps a hive on the Brookgreen property.

11:15 a.m. — Sharon Stollenmaier will speak on pond and aquatic systems, offering practical techniques for installation, cleaning and maintenance of garden water features.

12:45 p.m. — Ananda Fitzsimmons, co-founder of Inocucor Technologies, a company that makes natural microbial products for use in agriculture and soil and water remediation, will discuss gardening methods to decrease the use of chemicals.

2:30 p.m. — Todd Stephenson of Total Tree Care will discuss the proper technique for pruning crape myrtles and demonstrate them in the Poetry Garden at 3:30 p.m.

Lectures in the learning lab:

11:15 a.m. — Landscape architects Hugh and Mary Palmer Dargen will discuss creating a master plan for living environments.

1:15 p.m. — Frank Hyman, owner of Cottage Garden Landscaping in Durham, N.C., will share methods and experiences to increase efficiency and decrease garden maintenance.

3 p.m. — Brookgreen photographer Anne Malarich will share tips for photographing flowers in the garden. She will present a workshop at 4 p.m. Cost is $25, and reservations are required.

Lectures in the auditorium:

11 a.m. Bryce Lane, host of the Emmy-winning public television show “In the Garden with Bryce Lane” will speak about gardening. He is a professor emeritus at N.C. State University. He will speak at 2:30 p.m. about what he’s learned about gardening in the Southeast over the past 32 years.

1 p.m. — Patrick McMillan, co-host of the ETV nature program “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan,” will discuss intricate connections of the globe that can be traced to changes visible in South Carolina.

Participants will be invited to bid during a silent auction on a selection of container designs created by the Brookgreen horticulture staff.

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