Florine Curran, stands in her backyard with a few of her cleome plants. In 1977, she was tasked with planting the first crape myrtles in Albany. (Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Thirty-six years ago, Florine Curran was tasked to do her part to help beautify the city.
Curran, then president of the Albany Federated Garden Clubs, got a call from an utility company in town — that at the time wished to remain anonymous — out of the blue one day in 1977 saying they wanted to foot the bill for her to help bring a little more color to Albany.
“They asked me if I would consider coming up with the name of a tree or flower that would be good for the sidewalks of Albany,” she said. “They supplied the money for the plant or tree I thought would be beneficial.
“After thinking it through, I chose the crape myrtle. It has a beautiful bloom, its foliage is beautiful in the fall and the trunk dries and curls (in a way that makes) patterns of art. When it splits in the fall, it starts curling. I thought a lot of the dogwood, but it didn’t compare.”
As a result of this project, she became the first to bring crape myrtle plants to Albany, she said.
It wasn’t a job that she would be able to do alone, so she went to Deerfield-Windsor School and made an announcement that she was recruiting several young men to help her plant the shrubs and trees. From there, she was able to make contact with four students willing to help.
“(The project) was to beautify the city, and we wanted to incorporate young men into it to teach them … to help them learn to beautify at a young age,” she said.
The planting started at the sidewalk of Old Dawson Road near the Winn-Dixie. From there, the group went down toward Slappey Boulevard and ended near the Porterfield United Methodist Church area.
Curran said there were approximately 60 crape myrtles trees and shrubs planted. Since then, there are others who have planted crape myrtles in the area — including on U.S. Highway 19 going northward toward Leesburg.
“The ones on 19 are of all different colors. I watch them all the time. They are so pretty,” she said.
Curran has been an active garden club member for more than 50 years, both in Blakely and Albany — making her a long time advocate of city beautification, something she said garden clubs strive to promote.
After being a part of a project that is still thriving along the road’s medians today, she is glad to see that the crape myrtles have established a following.
“I see them in almost every yard,” she said. “(The crape myrtles) were very much needed at the time.
“I would like to encourage business owners to, in front of their businesses, continue planting crape myrtles. I encourage this to be continued. I’d like the city and the public (to continue) to do it.”
If the public has not gotten anything out of Curran’s efforts, it appears at least that her helpers did.
“I think they (the students from Deerfield) did learn something from it,” she said. “I showed them how to do it, and they (the plants) are still there.”
Curran said that she has 30 of the plants in her yard. They can be found in the colors of pink, red, white and purple — many of which are represented in the Albany area.
“They just live and live on their own with very little maintenance,” she said. “Many (of the ones planted in 1977) are still living.”
Among the rewards for her efforts was a rose garden created in 1989 in Tift Park in her honor, which her husband, Don Curran, maintains to this day.
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences describes crape myrtles as one of the most useful flowering shrubs/trees in Georgia, providing summer color with minimum maintenance. They are ideally suited for community plantings since they are long-lasting, is able to withstand droughts after being established and is relatively free if disease and insect difficulties.
Breeding work during recent years has resulted in a number of new crape myrtle cultivars, with a plant height range of less than three feet to more than 20 feet — making it one of the most versatile plants, the institution’s CAES website says.