Creating low-care, beautiful, biodiverse gardens

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

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

Earlier this week, the Crosby Arboretum hosted a delightful group of gardeners hailing from all corners of the United States. Our public garden was one of the tour destinations offered to those attending the national convention of The National Garden Clubs, Inc. (NGC) in Biloxi this week.

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What a delight to have the chance to introduce this group to the unique role the Arboretum occupies in the horticultural and gardening world, with its focus and origins in native plant communities. Master Gardener Amy Nichols and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the National Garden Club members about Mississippi’s unique native flora, and learning about their own plants and gardens in other areas of the nation.

On our tour we discussed some of the revolutionary guiding principles for the creation of the Crosby Arboretum, and its low-maintenance management. Three decades have passed since the site’s genesis, when a talented team designed the master plan for our public garden. It was a first in the public gardening world – creating an entire garden based on ecological principles.

In his book, The Crosby Arboretum: A Sustainable Regional Landscape (LSU Press), former Arboretum curator Bob Brzuszek, who is speaking Thursday at the Biloxi conference, notes that in the beginning, the Arboretum’s founders simply wanted to create a memorial garden to L.O. Crosby, Jr., but “instead embarked upon a more ambitious journey. Little did they know they would create one of the nation’s premier native plant conservatories that would win prestigious awards in architecture and landscape architecture.”

At the heart of the Arboretum’s design is the fact that the property would change over time. This simple concept was truly a radical idea in the world of arboreta, because public gardens are typically fixed exhibits managed to appear exactly the same way throughout time. This is also a characteristic of the typical home landscape.

Such fixed systems eventually fall apart and need to be restored or replaced. However, the plant communities at the Arboretum, just as in all wild places, will pass through many natural and cultural changes. Although this fact may not be perceived by a first-time visitor, those who return again and again will realize that our site is composed of constantly changing, living exhibits.

This can be seen most dramatically in the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit, an arrangement of constantly changing grasses and perennial blooms. Here, plant communities change with the seasons and from year to year. These areas also have a high biodiversity, and support a variety of wildlife. Visit the Arboretum to observe how you can create your own dynamic home landscapes, to provide a similar and continual delight through their change and unpredictability.

A Native Plant Field Walk will be held on Saturday, May 4, from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. Join Arboretum director Pat Drackett to explore native plants in the Arboretum exhibits. Bring your camera and dress for walking. Members free; non-members $5.

A Children’s Nature Craft Workshop will be held the afternoon of May 4, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. There is no minimum age requirement, as children must be accompanied by an adult. Members’ children $4; non-members’ children $6; no charge for adults.

In “Landscaping with Wildflowers”, on Saturday, May 11 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., learn how to plan and establish these low-maintenance species, suited to your site’s specific conditions with Pearl River County Extension Agent, Dr. Eddie Smith. Cost is $3 for members and $5 for non-members. Dr. Smith will then present “Square Foot Gardening” following the wildflower program, from 11:00 to Noon. Would you like to grow your own vegetables, but don’t think you have the space, time, or energy?  Learn just how easy and fun this method of gardening can be. Program is $3 for members and $5 for non-members.

In the afternoon of Saturday, May 11, enjoy “Yoga on the Pinecote Pavilion” from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. with certified yoga instructor James Sones for a gentle yoga class and short meditation sitting. Yoga mats will be provided, or bring your own.  Please arrive 10 minutes early. Members free, non-members $5.


That evening, enjoy “Music Under the Pines” an open mic event, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the Pinecote Pavilion. Enjoy coffee and tea, baked goods, and great local music with your friends and family. Call the Crosby Arboretum office at 601-799-2311 to sign up for your 15 minute time slot that generally allows for three songs, or to reserve your seat or a table that will seat six to eight persons.

The Crosby Arboretum is located at 370 Ridge Road in Picayune, at I-59 Exit 4, and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 4:00. Leashed pets are welcome.