Lessons from My Crepe Myrtle

So I wish I were a gardener. I really do. My great grandmother and my grandmother both had green thumbs and were great with plants and gardens. I just want to be able to have a nice looking yard, you know, something they call ‘curb appeal.’ I want to drive up to my house and smile. I want to take my tea and a book out and sit among my pretty little garden for a bit of peace.

Maybe some day. For now, I’m proud of myself when it doesn’t look like a jungle. I mean, I like the wild. I would prefer my garden to look a little…untamed, some day, something with a bit of character, a little less Victorian and little more like we coexist. But, I don’t want the crepe myrtle someone planted RIGHT NEXT TO THE DRIVEWAY?! to scratch up my car every time I pull in or out. And I don’t want it to strangle itself until the heart of it reaches above the blooms like a dead wood version of the White Witch’s crown in the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film adaptation.

See that dead heart?

To this end, I was out pruning back the Witch Queen and her daughters last year. As I was working, a few things occurred to me. A few things occurred to me that seemed an apt metaphor for life in general:

1. Is it ok to prune crepe myrtle at the BEGINNING of fall? I don’t know. But I have chronic health issues, so I do what I can when I can. SO much of my life is doing what I can when I can.

2. When I worked on her last, the Witch Queen deserved the name with a crown of dead wood at her heart. Some of that dead wood needed another growing season before I could remove it, whether because I wasn’t sure it was quite dead or just because I couldn’t get to it yet. Some things in our life (hobbies, pursuits, people,) absolutely need to go. Some, we need to be in a healthier place before we can understand whether they’re really good for us or not.

3. Some of the good limbs had to come out in order to remove the bad. Some sacrifices need to be made. Sometimes we can’t afford things that would be good for us while we try to get stronger financially. Sometimes we have to take time and energy away from something good for us in order to focus on healing what needs healing.

4. Some choices had to be made between two good branches: which is better? Serves her better? The queen can’t support them both. More than once I have been faced with a decision: focus very poorly on two things I love, or focus well on one. I could have been a decent visual artist. I love pen and ink drawing. But I needed to practice, a lot more, if I wanted to get good. I have a good eye for photography, and I really really enjoy finding that perfect angle, that right composition. But…yeah, practice. I could try to keep them going, and writing, and could be a little talented at all of it. Or, I could focus on my writing, and get good at it. (Do I think I’m good at writing yet? I’m not sure, but I’m definitely better than I would have been if spent hundreds of the hours I’ve spent writing on drawing and taking photographs instead.

5. Some of the branches I wanted to work out grew in the wrong direction, or just weren’t quite as strong as another. Yep. That’s a hard lesson to learn. Letting go of something we really wanted to work…

6. I still don’t know what her “final” shape will be. Will I have to prune more of these branches off of her as she keeps getting bigger? Will they bow, or grow straight? How well will they bloom this spring? Life is constantly changing. Needs arise, interests shift, health deteriorates…or improves! I don’t know what this year will look like, much less the rest of my life.

7. Left unattended and overcrowded, other issues cropped up in the shade. I cut down two fully, and I mean fully grown honeysuckle bushes and a small hackberry TREE from under her and her daughters. (See those tallest limbs? That’s mulberry, not crepe myrtle at all.) Problems have a way of compounding. If you ignore a problem area in your life, chances are more problems will crop up. This goes for things beyond your control: chronic health issues can lead to depression; ADHD can lead to anxiety; etc. So be self-aware and tend your life carefully.

See the mulberry in front? There’s a crepe myrtle behind it, you can just see the pink flowers.

8. The queen is considerably older, but all of her surviving branches are younger than her daughter. Maturity and success aren’t races. You can’t compare your life to someone else’s: they’ve faced different challenges. You don’t know how many times they’ve had to start over, or how much help they’ve had along the way.

9. Use the right tools. Seriously, trying to do yard work with the wrong tools is tortuous. Trying to manage your life according to what works for someone else may not get you very far.

10. Mistakes get made. On the youngest, I took out some good branches because I was only looking at the base: there were several branches, too crowded, so I took out the youngest. When I looked up, the older branches were…dying at the top…I should have taken them out and let the younger ones take the resources…The whole thing looks lopsided now. I’m frustrated with myself. It isn’t as nice as it could have been. But I didn’t kill it. It will recover. So, yes, you made a mistake, but did you die? Take a deep breath, and keep moving. Ask for help if you need to. Practice forgiveness and gratitude. Heal, make amends, and grow.

I have no idea what I’m doing, but they look healthier every year…

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