Arbo Paths: The anticipation of spring’s return

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The plump flower buds on the native pink honeysuckle azaleas near the Arboretum Visitor Center herald spring blooms to come (Crosby Arboretum archive photo).

The plump flower buds on the native pink honeysuckle azaleas near the Arboretum Visitor Center herald spring blooms to come (Crosby Arboretum archive photo).

Many years ago while driving up Highway 49 to Hattiesburg during the spring, I noticed an area that had been recently cleared of trees, revealing groups of pink honeysuckle azalea in full bloom on the banks of a stream passing under the road. When I mentioned this glorious sight to a friend later, they remarked, “Go back that way next spring and I guarantee you they will be gone.” When I inquired why, he explained it was likely that people would stop to either dig them up, or tag them to dig later, as they were in such obvious view of passers-by.

Unfortunately, many people who dig plants from the wild where they are “happy” are often not savvy enough to choose an appropriate location in their home garden that will provide the same light conditions, soil, or drainage that the plant had enjoyed. However, at our Arbor Day native plant sale on Saturday, February 7, Pearl River County Master Gardeners and our Arboretum staff will be available to answer questions and to ensure a proper “fit” to the environmental conditions the plants require

In a few months, our grounds will be an awesome sight, beginning with seas of yellow “buttercups” – yellow pitcher plant blooms – and golden Carolina jessamine vines twining up the pine trees, tiny bell-shaped light pink blooms festooning the Elliot’s blueberry shrubs, red maple blooms transforming to scarlet winged samaras, and then a riot of continuous blooms, fragrant pink and yellow and orange honeysuckle azaleas, Southern blue flag iris, and mountain laurel.

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I’m oddly partial to cold gray winter days, and don’t mind experiencing a number in a row, having grown up near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee, where I reveled in the return each year of the blues and grays and rusts of the winter landscape, a restful background for the bare tree branches. What a perfect contrast to the bustling summer months, with buzzing insects, sweltering humidity, and days when you could practically hear the kudzu growing.

Because of experiencing these gray and rainy days, we can fully appreciate a day like the one that suddenly appeared last week, warm and blue and gorgeous, a little hint of spring weather awaiting us around the corner. Not quite here yet, but a taste, to cause us for a brief moment to feel buoyantly alive, and we almost understand what it is like to be a plump native azalea flower bud, expectantly awaiting our chance to burst open in trumpeting bloom.

When I resided in Central Florida decades ago, I marveled at those who had never left the state and therefore never experienced the opportunity to change with the seasons. I suppose if you have never experienced something it is not possible to yearn for it, to miss it. On the flip side, we are fortunate here in Pearl River County to not have the winter extremes of those living in more northern climates experience, enduring weeks of ice and snow.

Coastal Mississippi winters give us the opportunity to go to sleep, and awaken with the beautiful native plants that make up our region’s landscapes. Consider incorporating plants into your landscape that celebrate seasonal change, such as the many native hollies and viburnums which have attractive berries. Witch hazel trees flower in early winter, when not much else is doing so. Its blooms will cause you to stop in your tracks and marvel. Find more plants that will cause you to marvel at the upcoming Arbor Day sale!

Prescribed burn demonstrations will be held Thursdays and Fridays in January and February if the environmental conditions are favorable. If you are interested in observing or assisting with a burn, call the office at 601-799-2311 and ask for Terry Johnson.

Prepare for spring with “Home Landscape Design Jambalaya” at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 24, at 10:00 a.m. with Senior Curator Jill Mirkovich and Director Pat Drackett. Sample a pot of jambalaya and enjoy an armchair journey of gardening and design ideas. At 1:00 p.m., a field walk of the Arboretum grounds will take place. Call to pre-register. Fee for either program is $5 for non-members, and members attend free.

On Saturday, January 31, Forge Day returns! Blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations take place from10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12. Members attend free.

The Arboretum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in Picayune, off I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59). For more information, call the office at(601) 799-2311 or see our website at

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Visit the MSU Extension website at to search for articles and information about your favorite plants. Just enter the any plant or gardening topic in the search engine on the home page.