Arboretum Paths: Spring native plant sale is Saturday

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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

Yes, it’s that time which comes but once a year – the Crosby Arboretum’s big spring native plant sale! Senior Curator Jennifer Buchanan has been working very hard to find the perfect palette of native selections for your garden.
Perhaps you’ve always wanted a Grancy graybeard just like your grandmother grew, or have made a habit of coveting your neighbor’s oakleaf hydrangeas each spring.
Maybe you’ve visited the Arboretum recently and noticed the sweet-smelling pink blooms of the native honeysuckle azalea along the pathways. The yellow and orange flame azaleas are soon to follow.
Whatever your fancy, you are sure to find something !this weekend that is not be a run-of-the-mill addition to your home landscape
Mississippi’s native plant species are guaranteed to add flare to your garden, and their bloom cycles, while much shorter in duration than those commonly encountered in the garden centers, serve to connect us with the ever-changing seasons.
The white strap-like spring blooms of Grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) will steal the proverbial show when used as a specimen or accent tree. This plant is also known as fringetree. Like its relative, the familiar fragrant sweet olive, fringetree is in the Olive family, and like the sweet olive, it has deliciously scented blooms. If you have both plants, you will recognize a similarity in the fragrance.
Although it will grow in full sun, Grancy graybeard seems to appreciate a little high shade. It prefers moist, well-drained sites, but tolerates drier areas as well. This is a good thing for the home gardener, when a plant is happy in a range of site conditions.
One plant having a much narrower spectrum of areas where it will flourish – although well worth the care taken to situate it correctly – is the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This shrub naturally occurs in moist, well-drained areas in the forest understory, and it will thrive if you provide it with these same conditions in your garden.
As a young gardener, I remember clients with large oakleaf hydrangeas, stunning in their woodland settings. Carpets of wildflowers added to this picture-perfect landscape. The coarse-textured shrubs towered well over my head.
If you would surmise that oakleaf hydrangea leaves resemble oak leaves, you would be correct. At certain times of the year, the plant has an almost comical appearance, because it is deciduous, and like the popular French hydrangeas, in winter they will be curiously bare and skeletal, with tufts of buds here and there that will later expand and erupt into young, downy leaves.
If you are not familiar with oakleaf hydrangeas, you are in for a treat. The shrub will offer you four seasons of interest in the garden. In the winter, its sculptural branches can be used to advantage to create drama in the landscape. The peeling bark on the trunks only adds to its beauty. Place this plant it in the back of a bed and locate other shorter species that will capture your interest in the winter months, such as a mass of evergreen ferns. As the unfurling leaves mature, and the shrub develops its spectacular blooms, its coarse texture and long-lasting fading blooms will persist well into the summer. In fall, it puts on a spectacular show of burgundy and maroon fall color.
To see a list of the plants that will be offered at our upcoming sale, visit the Arboretum’s Facebook page. Then, come visit our public garden this Friday or Saturday, March 24 and 25, for our fabulous spring native plant sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members will be admitted one hour early. Plant professionals, including Pearl River County Master Gardeners, will be available at the sale to help you choose the right plants for your property’s unique environmental conditions.
Site admission is free for both of those days, so take advantage of this opportunity to bring a friend, walk the site, and explore the grounds. The pitcher plants are blooming now in the bog and they are beautiful! For more information, please call the Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 or see We are located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).

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