We are blessed with crepe myrtles

Published 12:01 am Saturday, June 8, 2019

visit to Natchez is on the bucket lists of people far and wide.

Some want to visit to learn about our city’s history and see our beautiful antebellum mansions.

Others want to stand on our bluffs and watch the mighty Mississippi lazily flow by below.

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Some just want to come experience our legendary good times.

On Friday, June 21, a group of people from all over the world will arrive in Natchez to see one of our greatest treasures — our crepe myrtles.

Those of us who were raised here may take those gorgeous trees for granted. When I bought my house in Natchez, I was showing some photos of it to a friend who lives in the Birmingham area. The two, tall crepe myrtles that frame both sides of the house, which were bursting with delicate white flowers, were the first things he noticed.

“Oh, look at those. Those are Natchez crepe myrtles. You’re so lucky!” I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know what kind of crepe myrtles they were. I just knew they were beautiful, and I was so happy to have them.

The Natchez International Crepe Myrtle Festival begins June 21 and continues on Saturday, June 22. The event’s organizers say, “No other city can boast the extraordinary display of crepe myrtles blooming like Natchez, Mississippi.”

Did you realize Natchez has more than 10,000 crepe myrtles? And we have the late Sallie Junkin Ballard to thank for that.

Ballard conceived of and spearheaded a campaign to plant 2,000 additional crepe myrtles in Natchez in the year 2000. She exceeded that goal by 149.

In addition to celebrating our Natchez crepe myrtles, the festival will honor the memory of Ballard, who passed away in 2017.

“The abundant beauty of crepe myrtles is the reason this festival belongs in Natchez. Many historic 19th and 20th century trees have survived. In the year 2,000, Sallie Ballard made it her mission to ensure that 2,000 Natchez White and additional colorful specimens of Crepe Myrtles would be planted throughout her beloved city. The Crepe Myrtles Ballard established have made Natchez the “Crepe Myrtle Capital of the World!” said Festival Founder Peter Patout.

Ballard’s daughter, Wensel Ballard Conroy, who lives in Covington, Louisiana, will share memories of her mother beginning at 9 a.m. June 22 at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 Commerce St.

The event begins on June 21 with a Crepe Myrtle Crawl from 6 to 9 p.m. beginning at Crepe Myrtle Central — Natchez Architectural and Art Discoveries — 515 Main St.

It continues on Saturday morning at the Natchez Farmers Market, where master gardeners will be available to give advice and crepe myrtles will be on sale.

From 9 a.m. to noon at the Historic Natchez Foundation, free education lectures will be given by experts on all aspects of crepe myrtles including how to care for them.

The festival ends Saturday afternoon with several self-guided tours, including the 490 crepe myrtles in the Natchez City Cemetery, the 475 crepe myrtles located near Auburn and within Duncan Park and the 125 crepe myrtles located on the grounds of Monmouth.

For more complete and specific information about the festival, please see its Facebook page, Natchez International Crepe Myrtle Festival.

This event isn’t simply for visitors to our city. Take the opportunity to take your children and grandchildren to learn about and celebrate these Natchez treasures.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You may reach her at jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com or 601-445-3566.