Create lasting memories at the Arboretum

Published 2:14 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Think back to your earliest childhood memories, and the chances are that a lot of them will involve impressions formed outdoors when you were thoroughly immersed in nature.

One of my earliest memories is a time when I stood in our yard watching my big brother as he watered some newly planted trees, and my delight when the spray from his hose caused several toads to leap straight toward me! Another time, I remember walking barefoot across the top of a small concrete dam in a stream near my house, watching the water that was only a few inches deep as it sparkled in the sun and carried a steady flow of sugar maple leaves over my five year old toes. On a warm sunny boulder in our front yard I first learned that ants will bite when you let them crawl on you. (That didn’t stop me later on in life from feeding them with piles of sugar on my windowsill so I could ponder their activities, to my mother’s horror.)

My grandmother’s garden shed was yet another heavenly place, with a hot summer fragrance of soil and sun-baked wood. In winter, I remember the crisp smell of chilly weather, the sound of crunching snow beneath my boots, and the cold heaviness of my red mittens when they became caked with ice. In spring, there was the smell of new rain on dry pavement, and the scent of fresh earth after the vegetable garden was cultivated, the feel of sand against my scalp after a day playing in the sand box, and best of all, the sweet smell of the sassafras roots that lay below the sand. These outdoor moments are forever etched in my memory, and I like to think that the Crosby Arboretum is a place where such memories are constantly being created for the children who visit.

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Some of our recent visitors have been retirees who are out on travel adventures. These are the ones who enter our gift shop with a broad smile and a childlike sparkle in their eyes, and will proceed to entertain us with a description of their journey, and our part in it. Interestingly, several visitors have been in the process of writing a book, touring the country to research their topic. There is no end of interesting conversations to be had with our visitors, and this serves to remind me that if we can keep our ‘inner child” alive, we never lose the capacity to wonder at each new experience that nature provides.   

When the bell rings on our gift shop door, who knows what exciting stories we might be about to hear from our visitors. Whether they are from overseas or from right here in Pearl River County, Kim Johnson, who does double-duty as customer service and our membership coordinator, thoroughly enjoys sharing travel tales with our visitors. A world traveler herself, she keeps a record of the many places those visiting hail from. Persons who inquire about membership to the Arboretum are usually surprised to discover that it includes a reciprocal admissions program with the American Horticultural Society to over two hundred botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the United States. Kim maintains the brochures for many of these gardens, which she displays in our Visitors Center. Because she has traveled to many of these gardens herself, she can offer her personal recommendations. So, keep this fact in mind if you are planning to travel over the summer!

This time of year, visitors will often ask us about the unusual orb-shaped, spiky white flower they see on a shrub along the Arrival Journey as they approach the Visitors Center. The shrub is called buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and it grows on the rise of land found along the water’s edge south of the first bridge where it crosses the Slough Peninsula, and in other locations in the Aquatic Exhibit. The Peninsula is a remnant of a major road that once ran north to south accessing the site when it was planted in the 1930’s as a strawberry field. On either side of the Peninsula, you can still see the original drainage ditches for the farm road.

To the north, the ditches are unchanged, but to the south, they have been sculpted out into various depths that now support a variety of aquatic plants. A river otter is sometimes sighted in these drainage ditches. Fish swim in the water, and turtles enjoy sunning themselves on the Peninsula’s southern tip, so it is not unusual to hear a plop or a splash when passing over this bridge. The Slough feeds into the Piney Woods Pond, a man-made 2.5 acre freshwater lake that is the setting for our Pinecote Pavilion. The plants found near this bridge comprise one of the most interesting microclimates on our site.

In the spring, visitors delight to the huge leaves and blooms of the bigleaf magnolia. The pink blooms of mountain laurel also are a spring show-stopper. No matter the season, there is almost always something to cause a visitor to pause and observe when crossing this bridge.

The Arboretum is open and ready to create lasting memories Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311, or visit for directions and site information. We are located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, on Ridge Road (between Wal-Mart and I-59.)

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION:  If you are a grown-up, spend some time thinking about, and recording your favorite childhood memories formed in nature, or encourage a child to begin a natural journal this summer. If you accumulate enough pages, add photos and have them bound into a book. Wouldn’t it be fun for your great-great-grandchildren to one day to read about your own experiences as a child?