By Patricia Drackett, Director, The Crosby Arboretum/MSU Extension Service
The Picayune Item
PICAYUNE — At the recent Master Naturalist training held at the Crosby Arboretum, Master Gardener Susan Swope discussed how using more natives in our landscapes can save us both time and money. She went on to describe some methods well-suited to lazy gardeners. One was to create planting beds in lawn areas. First, mow the grass as short as possible, then add layers of newspaper or cardboard, add a thick organic layer such as leaves, and there you go— less grass to mow. Months later, when the organic material in this future bed area has begun to rot and break down, the plants are installed. The slides Sharon showed of this process, called “lasagna gardening”, were very inspiring. On a Web search you can find many articles and books on this topic. This presentation reminded me of a time when former senior curator Bob Brzuszek had remarked that when he spent time in his garden, he preferred to be gazing at it while holding a cold drink in his hand, not out working in it. Most of us, I believe, would agree with his statement, especially when summer days bring us broiling sun and steamy conditions. That’s the time most will prefer to be inside reading our gardening books and magazines. Although we’ve been enjoying some nice breezes on recent mornings or while lunching on the Pinecote Pavilion, afternoons are trending toward the warm side, and it won't be long before a typical day will be sultry. On my walk last week with the Covington Garden Club, we meandered through the Pitcher Plant Bog and South Savanna Exhibit. The Mississippi native plants in these exhibits are showing no signs of being bothered by the approaching summer. We were excited to notice several clusters of white-top sedge. The unusual star-shaped “bloom” at the top of this plant is actually several large bracts surrounding a small inflorescence. As we prepared to leave the Arboretum the picture plant bog we spotted a tall spike of yellow colic root. Both yellow and white colic root are found in our pine savanna. A member of the lily family, the stem is covered with dozens of tiny blooms clustered around the stalk. Having a garden in a wet pine savanna certainly solves the problem of having to water during the hot summer months. If you are lucky enough to have such a plant community in your backyard, then you do not have the maintenance worries of the average gardener. Like us, you can enjoy the great diversity of beautiful wildflowers found in these areas. Create a low-maintenance landscape by planting areas in your yard that stay wet or moist throughout the year with species that are suited to these areas. Southern blue flag iris, American crinum lily, and Texas star hibiscus prefer wet conditions and all have showstopping blooms. Equally beautiful performers are the shrubs called buttonbush, buckwheat tree, and Virginia willow. Swamp black gum, and bald and pond cypress trees enjoy wet conditions. Covington Garden Club president Rebecca Weems mentioned some meadow landscapes she has noticed near her home, remnants of the wet pine savanna coastal ecosystem of which only 3 percent remains today. We pondered what it was like before this area was settled – when a lightning strike could start wildfires that could burn for hundreds of acres before reaching a barrier such as a creek. Land development continues to eliminate these remnants, but “plant rescues” sometimes come about when a person recognizes the value of these plants, and works with the developer to transplant selected species. Although a rescue may consist of only a small number of plants compared to a huge acreage slated for development, like the proverbial starfish in the popular tale, a rescue can certainly matters to that one plant. Our Pitcher Plant Bog contains many “rescued” species. We pass a narrow wet waterway, and notice the green leaves of the waterspider bog orchid (Habaneria repens). This aquatic orchid species may not catch your eye like a showy pink relative, but take a close look at its green blooms when they appear later in the year to see this plant’s subtle beauty. Peering southward from the landing in Cypress Head, across from the Pinecote Pavilion, gives us a glimpse of a secret world of white water lilies and arrow arum. Several pond cypress trees here have been bent during Hurricane Katrina when a larger tree fell across the trunks. These sprouted skyward limbs, giving them an unusual appearance, adding to the mystery and magic experienced when standing in this delightful, hidden world. We hear the call of frogs and birds as we travel along the pathway. We encounter American and inkberry hollies, swamp chestnut oaks, and Elliot's blueberry bushes still sporting a few blueberries that beg to be tasted. Although we didn’t make fast progress along the trail because each story about a plant we see soon leads to another, we certainly had a wonderful time sharing stories about Mississippi and Louisiana native species. If you have not yet participated in the research study currently being conducted by Senior Curator Richelle Stafne seeking to determine the possible causes for reasons affecting visitation to the Crosby Arboretum, please consider doing so. The link for the short survey can be found on our website and will be available until mid-June. A program on passion flower will be held on Friday, June 7 from 11a.m. to noon. Dr. Eric Stafne, MSU Associate Extension Research Professor, will discuss both the ornamental and edible uses of our native “maypops.” On Saturday, June 8, a gentle yoga class will be offered from 9 to 10 a.m. on Pinecote Pavilion with certified yoga instructor James Sones. Both programs are free to Arboretum members and $5 for non-members. For more information, or to sign up for a program, visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu or call (601) 799-2311.The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59). For further exploration: Look up any of the plants mentioned above that you are unfamiliar with at your local library or in the Crosby Arboretum Plant Data Base (see the Arboretum’s home page for this link).