Summer in Sydney is bookended by flowers. When the warm weather starts in November the jacaranda trees bloom in clouds of pale mauve blossoms. The jacaranda is a celebrated tree, its flowering season our equivalent of a cherry blossom festival, as the jacaranda is the subject of tributes and it is debated in what areas of the city can be found the best blooms.
My favourite flowering tree is the one that marks summer’s end. It is less celebrated than the jacaranda, but no less striking. The peak of its flowering is in the last weeks of February, these weeks with a humid, dog days feeling about them, still clinging to a summer languor despite the year advancing rapidly into March.
These sentinels of summer’s end are the crepe myrtles, their clusters of frilly flowers daubing the streets pink. The crepe myrtle is a popular street tree, often planted along the roadside, and so when they are flowering they form a procession of pink blooms that you can follow like a trail throughout the suburbs.
With their clusters of small, ruffled flowers, the crepe myrtles are a joyful tree, with all the beautiful indeterminacy of the colour pink, a colour that can be both gentle and raucous. Some are crimson, others pale, others still are white or mauve. These different colours all arise from the “Indian Summer” strain of crepe myrtles, named for their East Asian origins and their late-summer flowering season. Crepe Myrtles vary in shape and size and colour, some neatly pruned, others unruly, sending out haphazard boughs of flowers.
As I have journeyed around Sydney these past few weeks I’ve had my eye out for the crepe myrtles. Crepe-myrtle spotting is a game with constant rewards. They’re everywhere, all different colours and sizes and in different combinations, changing familiar territory into a pink landscape. I often travel around Sydney in this way, picking one detail out of the many and transforming the city, temporarily, into a place dominated by that one element.
The city of the crepe myrtles is one of suburban streets and late summer gardens, with the oleanders and frangipanis trees their companion blooms. It’s a city of decorations and embellishments, iron lace and garden gates with patterns of hearts and rising suns. It’s a city in which even the most utilitarian places are surrounded by trees and flowers, belonging to everyone who cares to notice them.