Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/ MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
Have you ever marveled at the drawings of nature subjects created by a famous artist, or perhaps even a friend of yours who enjoys sketching outdoors? Whether you are the type to undertake a collection of nature journals that span your lifetime, or a single volume, you may be leaving a legacy for your family to enjoy in the future, as they read about the time you spent recording your observations of nature.
What fun it can be to engage a youngster in starting a record of the discoveries you made on a field exploration outdoors. They can make notes about when certain flowers emerge, the appearance and habits of birds that visit the feeder throughout the year, record weather patterns, or sketch the pattern of veins on a leaf. Tuck away a flower or two between the pages, and you’re well on your way to creating a lasting treasure.
Our first director, Ed Blake, filled numerous notebooks with his sketches and observations of the Crosby Arboretum during its early planning, and for many years afterward. His thoughts and drawings are valuable to us today, allowing a window on the process of the Arboretum’s development.
A book that was very popular in the late 1970’s was a reproduction of a 1906 sketchbook, “The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.” The author, Edith Holden, also created a journal that was also published around this time as “The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady.” Edith was an art teacher and an illustrator of children’s books who encouraged her students to record their observations of plant and animal life in the English countryside. These books are not just nature sketches, but contain poetry and notes of the observer.
When she created her notebooks, Edith had no idea of the popularity they would enjoy many years later. I can’t recommend them more highly as a gift if you have a nature-lover in your family, or need an addition to your nature library.
Growing up in East Tennessee, one of my favorite books was “A Naturalist’s Notebook: Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” authored by Robert G. Johnsson and illustrated by John D. Dawson (1984). If you’re visited the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg and wandered through their exhibits, then you have strolled among these pages which come alive in their gallery. Using sketches and text of the notebook’s pages as a background, sculptures of the diverse plant and animal life found in the Smokies are displayed alongside the notebook pages. The collection is outstanding. On a visit there last year, I believe I took about a hundred photos of their displays. If you know someone who loves visiting the Smokies, this is another great gift book and a great way to spend a few hours enjoying nature from a comfortable chair on a cold winter’s day.
Consider world-renown Australian botanical artist, Margaret Stones, who produced a phenomenal collection of botanical drawings of Louisiana’s flora as well as extensive work in England and Australia. Commissioned by LSU, her Native Flora of Louisiana project spanned from 1976 to 1991 and resulted in the production of over two hundred exquisite botanical drawings. Stones created her Louisiana drawings from live specimens, capturing the essence of the plants. We recently discovered some photographs of Margaret Stones in our archives, walking the grounds on a tour with Ed Blake.
Native plants that Stones may have discussed with Ed that day could have included species such as bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), golden club (Orontium aquaticum), beautyberry (Callicarpa longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), and fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata), all found in the Arboretum’s exhibits. Her work is held in the LSU Libraries Special Collections Hill Memorial Library, but you can appreciate images on the Internet right now of her beautiful botanical drawings, or obtain a copy of her “Flora of Louisiana”, a collection of her watercolors. You will recognize many of these plants, as they are common to Mississippi as well.
Not so long ago, people would have curled up in the winter with a good garden book, for example, “A Southern Garden” (1942) by Elizabeth Lawrence, a garden writer who lived in North Carolina and the first woman to receive a landscape architecture degree from N.C. State. If you have not heard of this writer, visit www.winghavengardens.com and prepare to be charmed. Another delightful garden writer was Katherine S. White, who wrote for The New Yorker. Her “Upward and Onward in the Garden,” a 1979 collection of her work, is a hands-down classic.
Why not consider starting a nature journal, or read more this winter about those who did? Those of you who have taken the nature sketching class offered at the Arboretum by our talented Arboretum staff member Robin Veerkamp, or seen examples of her field journals know firsthand how rewarding and pleasurable the pastime of sketching from nature can be.
Speaking of the “old days”, come out to the Crosby Arboretum this Saturday, November 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for our tenth annual Piney Woods Heritage Festival! See demonstrations and traditional activities from bygone times, such as quilting, blacksmithing, basket-making, woodcarving, spinning, and pressing sugar cane. On Friday we are open for preregistered school groups, at $2 per child (free to teachers, chaperones, and bus drivers). On Saturday, admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children.
Visit the Arboretum for more information on native plants, or call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311. See our program schedule on our website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. Social media links can be found on our homepage. We are open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).