Law of Averages, Ebony Lagerstroemia, and Aspirations of P.T. Barnum

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, but the law of averages can be a booger sometimes. We normally get around 3” of rain in the month of October, which, incidentally, is our driest month of the year. And it looks like that’s just about where we’ll finish this year. The problem is, it all came in a day and a half. Not that I’m complaining really, because we certainly did need the rain; it just would have been nice to have been a little more spread out. Obviously then, I am living proof that beggars really can be choosers, or would like to be anyway.

There are two plants on this list I want to discuss briefly. For starters, we have our first few of the Ebony series of Crape Myrtles ready to sell. A couple of years ago the USDA introduced several Crape Myrtle cultivars that have maroon foliage, and I don’t mean maroon-ish, they’re completely maroon. They were first picked up by a nursery in Texas and trademarked as ‘Black Diamond’ Crape Myrtles. Since they are not patented I can still grow and sell them, I just can’t call them ‘Black Diamond’. I will be calling them by their USDA given names, ‘Ebony Flame’, which has true red flowers, and ‘Ebony and Ivory’, which has white flowers. We’ll have a lot more of both in the spring.

They are fairly small for Crape Myrtles, with a mature height of around 10 feet I am told. It would appear to me, just from the limited exposure I’ve had to them, that they might do better in the landscape as a large shrub rather than a small tree. I think a mixed planting of ‘Ebony Flame’ and ‘Phantom’ or ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea would be stunning in mid-summer. And ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with maroon leaves and white flowers might be very popular selections in places like, oh, I don’t knowwwww…maybe Starkville. And College Station. I also think there is a possibility, since they’re somewhat on the shrubby side, that these Crapes might be used farther north than normal. If the roots survive the winter it could make a good looking woody perennial. 

Time will tell, of course. We’ve all seen far too many plant introductions that failed to live up to their hype, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far. In the interests of honesty and full disclosure, I should also point out that I told anybody who would listen, eight years ago, that there was absolutely no way Barack Obama could get elected President. So clearly, it’s a good idea to consider your source once in a while.

The other plant I want to mention is also an introduction from the USDA research station in Poplarville, Mississippi. It is a very dwarf form of ornamental blueberry called ‘Native Blue’. It is a compact, mounding, semi-evergreen (in south Mississippi anyway) with blue-gray foliage. With a little age it puts on tiny little fruit that supposedly attracts birds. Mine on the nursery are young and haven’t set fruit yet, but I’m hoping to see that happen next spring.

‘Native Blue’ needs full sun. I planted some in my yard, in a bed that is sunny on one end and shady on the other. The ones on the sunny end look good and the ones on the shady end do not. Apparently when the folks at USDA said “full sun”, they were serious. I think a mass planting of ‘Native Blue’ along with ‘Daruma’ Loropetalum or just about any kind of low-growing juniper would be quite attractive indeed.

On a completely unrelated note, I continue to be amazed by the gullibility of the American public. It occurs to me, just as I write this, that the Canadian public and the Mexican public might be just as mushy headed, but I never go there so I’ll stick to discussing what I know. A brand-new Whole Foods has just opened in Mobile and my lovely bride happened in there. She’d heard how nice the store was and went to take a look for herself. It must have been a dazzling experience, because she’s talked about it for a full week now.

I had rather hoped to keep her clear of the place because I’d heard from friends who’ve been there how expensive everything is, every syllable of which was evidently true. I’m sure if I’ve heard it, then you’ve heard the joke that it really should be called Whole Check, which is about right. But what dismays me as much as the prices is the convoluted logic used in an attempt to justify the usury. 

One of the items my wife brought home was a dozen eggs, at more than 50 cents apiece. The price was clearly worth it, she said, because the eggs were laid by free range chickens. Chickens that, to a bird, were content and self-fulfilled and at one with the earth, and indeed, with the universe. Chickens that wanted nothing more than to lay eggs and live the good life, and be free. Chicken nirvana. 

You have heard me say before that confession might be good for the soul but it’s bad for the reputation, but I’m about to make one here anyway. I don’t eat eggs all that often, but when I do it is a matter of complete indifference to me whether the chicken that contributed the eggs was given daily massages and rocked to sleep in its mother’s wings, or whether it was waterboarded until it gave up its final egg with its dying breath. You need something to put in with the dumplings anyway.

I am overdrawing things a little bit here to make a point. I am not in favor of hurting animals for any reason, and I imagine trying to waterboard a chicken would be as dangerous for you as it would be for it. But the fact that a business empire could be built by catering to a segment of the population who thinks like Whole Foods shoppers leads me to believe that P.T. Barnum was no more than half right. I think there are at least two suckers born every minute, and most of them never outgrow it. I’m just envious I haven’t come up with a way to capitalize on it yet.

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