The Virginian-Pilot
                            THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT  
              Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Friday, August 2, 1996                TAG: 9608020624
SECTION: LOCAL                   PAGE: B1   EDITION: FINAL 
TYPE: Column 
SOURCE: Guy Friddell 
                                            LENGTH:   55 lines


Yes, the days are humid, hot, and we are always going into or out of a shower. Which are reasons why we are having a glorious season of crape myrtles.

You might expect that after thunderstorms pounded us Wednesday night that crape myrtles would be bereft of blossoms. Indeed, pink paths of fallen petals lined the streets Thursday morning.

But in a day or two the trees' ranks fill again. Unlimited re-enforcements are always coming on. All season, the bloomin' myrtles keep putting out rainbow arrays.

That's why Fred Heutte, who founded the Norfolk Botanical Garden in 1936, loved the crape myrtles. Their blooming season lasts 100 days.

He preferred a crape myrtle festival to the Azalea Festival. In fact, in 1952 and 1953 Norfolk did have crape myrtle festivals, but then the Chamber of Commerce switched to a celebration of azaleas.

In 1965, Heutte tried, in vain, to persuade officialdom to resume the crape myrtle festival. Compared to more than three months of crape myrtles, he pointed out, the two-week season of azaleas is a flash in the pan.

When Norfolk's city manager offered him a job in 1933 as the first city gardener, Heutte - who had a thriving landscape business in Charlottesville - came here for an interview out of courtesy, not intending to stay. But when he saw crape myrtles in bloom, he knew he was home.

With guile, he set about converting the city's streets and yards into an explosion of crape myrtles. He began by setting them out along both sides of Ballentine Boulevard, asking only that householders look after their watering. The idea took root and spread.

Every year the city's streets turn pink, white, lavender, red - as if someone had stuck bolls of cotton candy along the walk and turned the city into a stronghold of colors.

The predominating variety is known as the common crape myrtle, although it flaunts the most uncommon hues: birthday pink, watermelon red, deep purple grape, wash-day white, twilight lavender. There is no end to the shades of delight.

In Norfolk Botanical Garden, horticulturist Kunso Kim noted that the crape myrtle originated in Asia.

Thanks to breeding work done by the late Donald Egolf at the National Arboretum in Washington, there are some 20 hybrids. A dozen or so grow in Norfolk's Garden. They are more resistant to disease than is the common variety.

The floral show ends when the weather turns cold in October, but leaves bright as gold florins bedeck the trees in autumn, and when they fall, the smooth muscularity of their bare limbs is in full view.

Truly, a tree for all seasons. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Crape Myrtles by CNB