Arboretum Paths: Observing and recording the natural world

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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

Over the last few weeks we’ve had so many opportunities at the Crosby Arboretum to observe the beauty found in nature. It’s pretty hard to ignore this “garden of earthly delights” when spring is emerging!

What a pleasure it has been to see the visitor numbers increasing this month, and knowing that they are enjoying such hard-to-miss sights – clouds of flowering, sweet-smelling pink honeysuckle azaleas that always seem to sport hovering swallowtail butterflies, and the carpet of emerging yellow pitcher plant blooms in the South Bog. A smorgasbord of bloom is right outside the Visitor Center door, awaiting discovery.

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Last Saturday’s Smart Phone Photography workshop kicked off our quarterly activities, which are designed to celebrate this glorious season. Led by graphic artist Diana Thornton, the program began with her showing us a number of simple tips and tricks to access the features on our smart phones that will help us get the most out of the camera application.

Comments by participants were enthusiastic, and included the crowd’s occasional chorus of, “Oh! I never knew that!”

One of the newly-learned tips we had great fun experimenting with was the camera’s panorama setting. We used this to take photos of a vertical subject, such as a tree or the Pinecote Pavilion, instead of a horizontal one. Wow!

The second part of Diana’s workshop consisted of a field walk through the grounds, as the group found more subjects to photograph.

Another great upcoming opportunity to “get close to nature” will be Robin Whitfield’s Earth Colors Art Workshop this Saturday, March 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Robin gave a program this past fall and we are excited she has returned due to popular demand.

“Earth colors” refers to pigments found in nature, for example, from soil, leaves, bark, berries, flowers, mushrooms or mineral deposits. Workshop participants will learn to identify and collect plant and mineral materials, and explore a variety of artistic media in the workshop.

Last October’s workshop with Robin was amazing! It was quite an experience to watch her the evening before the event, as she set up a long row of tables covered with brown craft paper, with black marker identifying the sources of the many earth pigments arranged there.

The next day, the participants thoroughly enjoyed exploring nature’s colors, patterns, and textures, using a variety of free-form techniques.

Robin works on location in rivers, swamps and forests near her downtown Grenada, Mississippi studio and other natural areas around the state. Her art “explores the poetic relationships of form and color found in nature.” Discovering and sharing the beauty of ecology, natural habitats and biodiversity is a driving force in her creative life.

You can read more about Robin’s workshop this weekend on our Facebook page or the Arboretum’s website program calendar.

If you’ve never visited the Arboretum, several dates are on the horizon for you to do so – for free. One is the Strawberries and Cream Festival on Sunday, April 8 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., a chance to explore our garden when the spring blooms are at their peak. Enjoy bluegrass music, ice cream, and fresh strawberries in the beautiful outdoor setting of the Pinecote Pavilion.

Diana Thornton’s photographic work is currently on display in the Arboretum’s Pinecote Gallery. Come see her collection of subjects that illustrate the beauty and intrigue of the natural world around us. Interestingly, some of her photos are patterns, and much like with cloud-watching or Rorschach ink blots (if you aren’t from the generation that knows what these are, research the subject on the Internet), viewers will have a completely different interpretation of what the image resembles. It’s a lot of fun to compare notes! So bring along a friend and truly experience Diana’s exhibit, which runs through May 31.

We still have several spaces left in Robin Whitfield’s Earth Colors Art Workshop on Saturday, March 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but sign up ASAP as space is limited. Read more about this program on our Facebook page or website event calendar. Cost for members is $35 and for non-members $45. The cost includes a bag lunch. Let us know if you have dietary restrictions. Please register early, as the workshop is limited to 15 persons.

Mark your calendar for our spring native plant sale to be held on April 13 and 14 (Friday and Saturday). For more information or to register for a program, call 601-799-2311. The Crosby Arboretum is located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information, visit