Arboretum Paths: Landscape design tips from local roadsides

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

:  Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) is one of the perennials that you can find growing on Pearl River County roadsides (Image by Pat Drackett).

: Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) is one of the perennials that you can find growing on Pearl River County roadsides (Image by Pat Drackett).

During my journeys throughout the county in recent weeks, it has been a delight to observe the roadside perennials and grasses as they develop. Although I enjoy the emergence of spring wildflowers, these more delicate blooms can “melt” with warmer weather, and I admit to sometimes looking impatiently forward to hot summer days and the corresponding more robust display of roadside perennials and grasses found later in the season.

Seeing this crazy quilt of color and texture so expertly woven together on my drives is absolutely enchanting, and it often reminds me of earlier years spent in college studying landscape architecture. During the intense classes where we learned to produce successful and well-balanced planting designs, we would find ourselves toiling in the studio for weeks on end.

Eventually, we would emerge for some fresh air, and take a drive down nearby country roads. Armed with minds and eyes that had just recently been focused on constructing planting designs according to established principles and rhythms, we found ourselves dumb-struck by the perfection unfolding on the roadsides. How could our man-made attempts possibly improve on the beauty we observed in these natural patterns, we pondered. These plants were occurring in specific locations, based on their habitat preferences. What we were seeing was a tapestry of landscape patterns that were the result of changes in moisture, sunlight, soil type, and slope of the land.

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Surely at some point in your own travels you have found yourself saying, “Oh, isn’t that pretty,” in response to certain roadside blooms or patterns. By learning to identify these plants you consistently pass, you can learn about the habitats they prefer, and possibly find a few low-maintenance additions to your own home landscape.

Certain plants such as white top sedge, lizard’s tail, orange fewflower milkweed, and the dark green spiky grass called Juncus can be seen in wet areas along local roads. Black-eyed Susan, and various species of Coreopsis, our state wildflower, are found on dryer slopes. A particularly gorgeous Coreopsis tinctoria has made a home near our service entrance on some recently disturbed soil.

One excellent resource to help you identify local plants and wildflowers is the Crosby Arboretum plant data base, hosted by the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. From our home page at, select the orange rectangle in the lower left corner. Here, you can scroll through our list of species and find plants you are familiar with and learn their names. You can also print a species list for study.

Although the species in the list are suited to our very wet site, you will find information on other native species in the Wildflower Center’s master list, which includes plants throughout the U.S. Another website to aid in identifying plants found in our region is Simply enter a few characteristics about the plant in question for a list of possibilities to choose from.

Soon, I will be experiencing a drive along roadsides in other states during my trip to Florida for the American Public Gardens Association annual conference. Here, I will accept the 2016 Garden Excellence award for the Crosby Arboretum. Our public garden has been chosen over hundreds of other U.S. public gardens to receive this national award for demonstrating excellence in horticulture and site management practices.

If you have never visited the Crosby Arboretum, we urge you to make plans to come explore this marvelous place that is revered and respected throughout the country and the public gardening world. It has the potential to enrich your life – and your gardening methods – in so many ways!

Sign up for some great Project Wild teachers’ workshops, to be held Thursday, June 24 and Thursday, July 14from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., led by outreach educator Sabrina Cummings from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Call the Arboretum office to register.

A children’s program on Insect Exploration will take place Thursday, June 29, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon, with Hancock County Extension Agent Christian Stephenson. See our June program calendar on our website for more information. Our summer schedule has just been posted.

Call 601-799-2311 to sign up for programs. 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.

Patricia R. Drackett, Director and Assistant Extension Professor of Landscape Architecture
The Crosby Arboretum, Mississippi State University Extension Service