Arboretum Paths: A unique public garden: The Crosby Arboretum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forge Day this Saturday serves to attract new visitors who might not have otherwise planned an outing to the Arboretum, but will hopefully continue to return.  (Photo: Pat Drackett)

Forge Day this Saturday serves to attract new visitors who might not have otherwise planned an outing to the Arboretum, but will hopefully continue to return.
(Photo: Pat Drackett)

Last week, I found myself doing my best to describe in only a few sentences how the Crosby Arboretum is very different from any other public garden in the nation, and why this is so significant.
The Arboretum certainly functions as a typical public garden, offering a quarterly selection of exciting public events and programs. Activities are focused on celebrating nature, and the history and culture of Mississippi’s Piney Woods region.
Here, you will find the requisite walking trails, about three miles or so. They travel through three main habitat types: savanna, (grassland), woodland, and aquatic. Perched on the edge of the Piney Woods Pond sits a beautiful architectural structure, the Pinecote Pavilion, which draws visitors from around the nation to the garden to stop in to experience its beauty.
The Arboretum was not an exceptional piece of land to begin with, but it was known in the Crosby family to be a favorite property of L.O. Crosby, Jr., a prominent forestry figure, civic leader, and philanthropist who had a deep compassion for nature. The property was a typical wet pine savanna, formerly used for timber production prior to Hurricane Camille, and for agricultural use during the Depression era.
Today, the site has undergone thirty years of growth since its public opening in 1986, and we are now “steering the ship” of what is today an exceptional public garden, one that is dynamically growing and evolving since the Arboretum’s Master Plan first designated two-thirds of the 64-acre interpretive site in Picayune to be forest, and the remaining third to be maintained as a pine savanna, or grassland, through prescribed burning.
With the Arboretum’s forward-thinking ecological approach of matching native plant material to the environmental conditions they will thrive in, our garden provides an excellent example for home gardeners to learn how to use these principles for their own low-maintenance landscaping, as well simply being a pleasant place to take a stroll, no matter the season.
In the early years following the Crosby family’s decision to create a public garden that would serve as a living memorial for L.O. Crosby, Jr., a talented group of planners, landscape architects, foresters, and botanists comprised a team that would lay out the foundation for the design of this unique public garden. Plant inventories were conducted of the Arboretum’s associated natural areas, with the patterns and plants observed in those areas then used as “blueprints” for guiding the planting of our exhibits.
First Arboretum director and landscape architect Edward L. Blake, Jr. who designed the site Master Plan, was often heard to say that at the Crosby Arboretum, “the land is the exhibit” and “we are allowing the land to express itself”. On a journey through the exhibits, those statements certainly aptly describe the processes one can observe, that of forest succession, and a dynamic, diverse, and entrancing savanna landscape.

The Arboretum serves as a setting for a variety of activities that allow participants to experience and celebrate many aspects of their natural world. Classes may center on birds, butterflies, or other wildlife, native plants, mushrooms, or traditional and nature-based craft workshops, all intended to attract new visitors to the Arboretum who may otherwise not have chosen to come.
One of these is our eighth annual Forge Day this Saturday, January 30, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. See blacksmithing and metalworking demonstrations by area craftsmen. Bring your kitchen knives for sharpening, and browse handcrafted items for sale. Free for Arboretum members, $5 for non-members, and $2 for non-members’ children. No pre-registration is required.
A winter field walk will be offered on Saturday, February 6, at 1:00 p.m. Walk the grounds with Arboretum director Pat Drackett, and experience the subtle natural winter beauty around you. Members free; non-members $5. Call the Arboretum office at (601) 799-2311 to sign up.
Make plans to attend our Arbor Day Native Plant Sale on Saturday, February 13, from 1:00 a.m. to 3 p.m.Admission is free to the public this day. The Arboretum is 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).

Patricia Drackett, Director The Crosby Arboretum MSU Extension Service

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