Fragrant Festival, Fragrant Crape Myrtles
It is the custom on August 15, as some of you know, to bring fragrant herbs into the church in honor of the Virgin Mary. Tonight though I saw on the altar, among many other beautiful varieties of flower brought by the faithful a vase of crape myrtle brances - a manifest choice for August and a lovely one. But I could not help
from silently criticizing that they were not fragrant - which is the whole point as I thought to myself. Crape Myrtles are newish plants for the New Jersey, and we in zone 7 & 8 gardeners in the Garden State have not yet finished sorting out which varieties prove hardy, and which succumb to are long, wet and snowy winters. I once set out a hedge of 'Natchez' which petered then perished over the course of two successive cold winters. One Crape Myrtle though, an old friend of mine, whose alabaster smooth bark, and fuscia blooms in view from my home have delighted me for 21 consecutive Augusts - the very tree of August I consider - lived for many years before ever I came to this place, protected in the shadow of the flat roofed, junk bedecked, excentric beyond words, foul smelling, concrete dump of a structure,the South Jersey landmark known as George's Bate, Tackle, and Music (yes, music, as in towns purveyor of band instruments.)
Having forgoten almost entirely about the service, later that evening I went out for my walk, and was arretsted by fragrance where I knew none could be. The scent seemed emmenate from the area between a new home, scantily landscaped with poodle type topiary bushes, and a construction company office lawned in gravel. I looked for evening primoroses on the wayside, or some unknown vine winding its way through hedge and fence, but to no avail. Instead, my nose led me to the same venerable old Crape myrtle tree growing in the gravel lot, now laden with its pink popcorn trusses, and fragrant in the moonlight! How I could have missed this scent all these years I will never know.
Crape myrtles are fragrant? But I could not have guessed. I have smelled many, but never detected any fragrance. It may be that the cold hardiest, new bred varieites which home owners are scooping up at Loews are not the most fragrant. You must understand too that my old friend, now in more upscale surroundings, George's having been recently torn down, was set quiet into the lot, right against the shop, and very little could have enticed me to get so close to the place, let a lone at night. How grateful I am the tree was saved in the construction!
Now I love the Old Crape Myrtle doubly. I only regret having missed its fragrance all these year.
And I think I've learned a lesson. Perhaps as gardeners, as people who grow plants, and tweak, and arrange, and crop and prune nature (and perhaps things in other areas of our lives) until they are just right, it is one that strikes a chord with others here today. All that time I never thought to look for fragrance among inelegance, dilapidation and stench, I should have known that it was the very place I ought to have known to be looking for it. Tonight, instead of seeing brightness of flowers on the altar and the declining light of the sun across successive windows, hearing the etherial singing, smelling the inscense, and attending to spiritual things, with whatever sense it is we humans do, at least for the moment I was distracted by the notion that the flowers were a less than appropriate choice, not being fragrant. The lady gardener who offered them clearly knew much better than I! Fragrance, like love, it seems we take joy in most when it is found where we never expected to find it, and never deserved it.
How do we put a spiritual experience into words?..."That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (1 John 1:1) - the author may as well have writted "what we have smelled" for that is a reality equally difficult to describe. But, for you, I will try. Crape Myrtle smells light, first powdery like Hydrangea Panniculata, then more juicy - and this is its main characteristic - light cool and fresh, the sweetness of watermelon, as in Mimosa (Silk Tree), but not in the same quantity, with slight back notes of inscense and spices. And I will try further; instead of a chatisement for my presumption and ignorance, I recieved a gentle blessing, as fragrance always is, from the Crape Myrtle plant, perhaps from the Virgin Mary herself.
Matt Di Clemente