Posted by: Jim E | July 18, 2011

Crape (Like Grape) Myrtle, Lilacs…The Depression, WPA…And Lots More…

Well, here I am…with two flowering small trees…most think they are bushes…but are really small trees…I have seen them cultivated to grow in a single trunk and quite tall…but mostly both are kept quite short…in the lilacs case they are mostly in large bushes with many small branches coming out of the main plant…with crape myrtle, they are usually planted with a number of trunks coming out of the main plant…both flowers are beautiful…the lilac mostly in the purple hues but the crape myrtle can be everywhere from purple, to white, to pink, to red…and in all kinds of shades in between…

The lilac flowers come in the early spring…depending on the climate, somewhere between May and June and in warmer climes maybe earlier…I am familiar with Minnesota…so early May would be very early…I remember when I was in high school, the prom was in April that year and the theme was something about lilacs…and they wanted lilacs to pick for that night…well, as will happen often in Minnesota, it was  cold spring…and no lilacs…in fact we had some snow the week of the prom (yes, snow in April happens lots in Minnesota)…we made do, I don’t remember how but the prom came off anyway…

We lived in Golden Valley, MN…it was a suburb of Minneapolis…and all along highway 100 they planted lilacs…it was called, when I was young, Lilac Drive or Lilac Way…it was beautiful in the spring…all along 100, as we called it, were thousands of lilacs…they were planted by the WPA during the depression when 100 was built…and there were many roadside parks built along 100 too…all out of limestone, that came from Mendota, MN, along the Mississippi River…there were benches, picnic tables, grills, water features…and walls between the park and the road…they were roadside parks for those driving along 100 or “the beltline” (called that because it was to circle the whole city)…and many used them for picnics and family gatherings…this highway circled around the city on the westside…four lanes…I remember as a kid they closed off “the beltline”, at least one side for the Golden Valley “Lilac Day Parade”…kids on bikes, and all the other parade things that went on…today, 100, the “beltline” is more like a freeway…it would be next to impossible for a parade…

And today, most if not all of those parks are gone or behind noise walls…and I think most of the lilacs are gone…the WPA built these roadside parks out of that Mendota limestone…I will add a picture from that time, notice the “beehive” barbeque and the stone furniture…the water features were beautiful…I remember as a kid those parks were pristine and well maintained…but the last time I stopped by to especially “see” one of the parks from my youth…Oh, maybe 20 years ago…they were falling apart, grass uncut and vandals had begun to do their work…(it’s like so many public buildings, schools, bridges, etc…they build them but do no planning for upkeep…so they fall into disrepair) the water features no longer held water, tables tipped over…all that is gone now except for a few pieces that were saved for the present…to remember the past…I remember all those roadside parks and what beautiful work those men did back in the 1930’s…and I remember well, riding along on 100 and smell all those lilacs…the one really unusual thing about them is their fragrance…it is wonderful and you didn’t need to get up close to smell that beautiful smell…I guess I miss all of that…

So whatever does that have to do with crape myrtle???…well, crape myrtle remind me of the flowers of the lilac…the colors vary widely…and the flowers on the crape myrtle last from June until early fall…where the lilacs flowers only last a few days at best…and here in Arkansas it is just too hot for lilacs to thrive…I guess you can get them to grow but it is a difficult thing…I have never seen one in the Little Rock area…but there are plenty of crape myrtle…they are all over the city…all kinds of colors…they are beautiful…they are originally from China, Korea and Japan…but came to America very early in our history…and as the lilac is destined to grow in more moderate climates, even into Canada…so the crape myrtle is destined for this more hot and humid climate…but I enjoy them both…

Flowers are a wonderful thing…and we are fortunate if we love to see them and enjoy them…and we need to take in the beauty around us before it or we are gone…I for one am going to take the time to remember beautiful things in my past…and beautiful things I see now…how about you???…



  1. Nice history Pops…I remember all the lilacs around Gramma and Grampa’s apartment…there were tons of them. I remember seeing them along 100 too. Lilacs are Marisa’s favorite…if I could grow them down here, I would give a few bushes to her for our anniversary.

    We still suffer from building things and not planning to maintain them…today, everybody just wants “more” and “new”…even though there would be nothing wrong with what is there, if we would tend it and take care of it.

  2. I love the crape myrtle. They are everywhere and I don’t drive around without enjoying them. I have many pictures with all the different colors. I love the way Little Rock plants along the boulevards. Everywhere you look, there are flowers all year long. The funny thing is that they also have to be weeded and you will see groups of people on their hands and knees pulling the weeds.

  3. What a pleasant blend of botany and memories here. It makes me wonder sometimes what the internet generation will have in the way of things to remember…and I speak as an internet fan (though I’ve come to it somewhat later in life).

    • We (Judie and I) got into the internet late too, I guess…in the 1990’s…really Judie’s Mom, who is a bit older that us…got us going…Judie said, if Mom can do it so can I…and she did…then I came along a bit later…through work, etc…so whether this generation will have as much “to remember”, I don’t know…I somehow think there will be a rebirth of interest in the past as happens in all generations…and interest in what is around them and what brought them to where they are…rather than on the internet only…and with the things you do and so many others do…in writing about things that interest them…that all helps…

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