Arboretum Paths: Layered landscapes create livable home gardens

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On our visit to Hillside Bog last week, we found buckwheat tree (Cliftonia monophylla) in full bloom.(Photo by Pat Drackett).

On our visit to Hillside Bog last week, we found buckwheat tree (Cliftonia monophylla) in full bloom.(Photo by Pat Drackett).

Last Saturday, the Crosby Arboretum’s annual lecture brought writer and photographer Rick Darke to the local community. Many of the attendees commented that this was the best talk they had ever attended, and I agree!

Rick is a person who has been fortunate to have spent the majority of his life immersed in the plant world. Notably, he was Curator of Plants at the celebrated Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania for many years. He has accompanied legendary plantsmen on worldwide exploration trips, and written many books on the topics of landscape design and gardening.

The last time Rick visited the Arboretum was in 1990. Today, our grounds appear differently than from what he saw on his visit, looking across our grassy pine savanna landscape all the way to the interstate! Now, the Visitor Center is surrounded by a young woodland. Prior to the Saturday lecture, we took a walk to our Hillside Bog natural area, a 70 acre site in north Hancock County. The site, which features a large pitcher plan bog, has a high diversity of habitats and plant species, and many plants that are found only along the Coastal Plain.

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Today there are many choices of books offering a variety of ways to approach the design and planting of our home landscapes. In Saturday’slecture, Rick focused on the principles behind his new book, “The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden”, co-authored with last year’s annual lecture speaker, University of Delaware entomology professor Doug Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy authored the hugely popular garden book about the relationship between plants and insects titled “Bringing Nature Home”, and he has spent the last several years touring the country to discuss the message of his book.

In his lecture last year, Dr. Tallamy brought us a clear message of how small things that home gardens can do in their gardens to support insects and wildlife can make a big impact on the biodiversity – in other words, the health – of their local landscapes. Rick and Doug’s new book provides the inspiration for how we can begin transforming our gardens into such living, or, “livable” landscapes. “The Living Landscape” is a book that truly stands out from the crowd. Literally, it is a hefty book, larger than many, certainly heavier, and full to the brim with Rick’s splendid photographs.

Rick’s lecture focused on how we can observe patterns found in nature, and learn from the functions of wild landscapes, as a basis to create healthy and beautiful outdoor living spaces.
He pointed out that suburban areas represent a significant percent of land in the United States, and the impact made when homeowners consider the function of their landscape as well as its aesthetic beauty. He urged the audience to consider the function of a plant before we incorporate it into our garden. Will it support wildlife? Does it provide food for you and for wildlife? Does it provide a space for wildlife to breed and give them cover?

Rick’s point was not to convert everything in our yards to native plantings. It is perfectly fine to have plants in our gardens that originate from other countries, and many exotic non-native plants can certainly be appreciated simply for their aesthetic beauty. But by first understanding the function of plants, and their habitats and natural environments, we can design plantings in our home landscapes which are much more functional, celebrate seasonal change, and connect us to our regional landscape.

Mark your calendar to enjoy ice cream, strawberries, and spring blooms at the Arboretum’s Strawberries and Cream Festival on Sunday, April 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is free! This year, the Crosby Arboretum Foundation is sponsoring a community Art Show. Winners will be announced at the Festival and will receive cash prizes. The show includes a youth division for grades 7 through 12. For information on submitting an entry, forms are available at the Arboretum and on our website’s program calendar page.

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 about our programs and events, see the website or call 601-799-2311.

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Search the Web to read more about Rick Darke and the books he has authored. If you missed his presentation, look online for his videos and podcasts.

By Patricia Drackett