Land of Crape Myrtles and Okra
The fierce Zone 7 summer heat is bearing down on the countryside and gardens around me. The pressure is revealing the heat stalwarts, those plants, probably from ancient tropical origins, that can flourish in the harsh glare of the summer sun.
Two of these stand-out performers are crape myrtle and okra. Some folks might say that crape myrtles are overused, but it is hard to argue with success. Their hardiness, flowering appearance, and attractive trunks pretty much guarantee usage. Frankly, there would be no shrubs of significance blooming here right now if it weren’t for them. These particular specimens were not exceptionally noteworthy except for the fact that they were attractive following weeks of 100+ temperatures. If you want a flowering shrub in full sun in July or August here in my region, this is your best choice.
Okra is another heat lover. It is a distant cousin of the hibiscus and hollyhock families and it too can handle the sun. It flowers and even seems to relish the heat. I anticipate my okra bearing until it outgrows my ladder for harvesting or until winter comes, whichever is first. Fried okra… okra sliced thin, rolled in seasoned cornmeal and browned in a little oil, is something to look forward to. Many people who dread boiled okra’s slippery texture don’t realize that it is neutralized by a little tomato juice or vinegar. But fried okra is so good why would anyone bother, although I do admit a fondness for pickled okra.
You need some shears, gloves and sleeves to pick your okra. There are tiny spines on the leaves, too small to see easily, that will begin to irritate your skin about twenty minutes after you brush through the leaves to find and harvest your okra. These “sensitive touch” gardening gloves come highly recommended. Shears will help you snip the pods without damaging the single-stalked plant. If the pods aren’t easily pierced with your thumbnail (kind of like summer squash) it is too tough. You need to pick your okra patch almost every day once it starts to bear. Three to six inches in length is a good size.
If I have crape myrtles somewhere in my yard and okra in my garden patch, then no matter how rough August temperatures may be, I will have something to show for my efforts and so will you. Both of these heat-seeking plants are rewarding and productive. Consider adding them to your warm weather plantings.