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A true low-maintenance landscape: Crosby Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit

By Pat Drackett

Crosby Arboretum Director

How would you like to have a constantly changing field of wildflowers that provide you with a constant kaleidoscope of colors and textures? What if you never saw the exact same show from year to year, as these plants responded to the unique combinations of seasonal weather and moisture. And even better, the only maintenance you would need is a yearly mowing or prescription burn.

That scene pretty much describes the Arboretum’s Savanna Exhibit, otherwise known as a “wet pine savanna.” The area measures about 20 acres, and we think of it as being a very large pollinator garden. In fact, ever since volunteer beekeeper Jac Coleman installed several beehives adjacent to the savanna, the abundance of perennial blooms in these areas has increased.

Approximately one third of our public garden is grasslands. Each year, prescribed fires are conducted by Grounds Manager Terry Johnson on various sections of this exhibit. The Pitcher Plant Bog, located in the southernmost portion of the Savanna Exhibit, contains a boardwalk that allows our visitors to see the plants up close. This bog changes dramatically from month to month, as various wildflowers come into bloom and dominate the bog.

You can create low-maintenance areas like these of your own. They can be as small as a parking space, or as large as to be measured in acres. We’ve heard many stories from our members who have established or encouraged such natural landscapes on their own properties.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service website contains information and publications to guide you in installing native plants into your home landscape. Visit http://extension.msstate.edu and enter “Wildflowers for Mississippi Meadows and Gardens” or “Designing with Native Plants and Naturalistic Landscapes” into the search engine.

Pearl River County residents are fortunate to live in an area that is rich in natural beauty, and also fortunate to generally have more ample amounts of property compared to those who reside in more urban areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Even our subdivisions tend to have larger lots, and this means plenty of opportunities to use larger-growing trees and shrubs.

Few residents in urban subdivisions with tiny lots and side “yards” of narrow strips five to ten feet wide would choose to plant a Live Oak or a Southern Magnolia, but large properties allow for growing and thoroughly enjoying large canopy trees. However, just because you have a larger yard doesn’t necessarily mean it will cost you more for landscaping. Your design can simply include plant material that grows bigger!

Another plus for large properties is the opportunity to create ample natural areas with plants that will provide habitat for wildlife, or other benefits such as filtering stormwater, functioning as a windbreak, screening views, or reducing maintenance needs by reducing the size of turf areas.

Perhaps you already have existing native species on your property that are edible. If not, plant them! Mayhaws, blackberries, blueberries (huckleberries) and persimmons offer both wildlife, and you, tasty fruit. One visitor mentioned they purposefully do not mow a large area of their fields so they can collect blackberries.

In the coming weeks, our Savanna Exhibit will begin to explode with the plumes of native grasses intertwined with late blooming perennials such as swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), only one species of many gorgeous yellow-hued flowers currently merging with the purples of autumn asters, false liatris and deer’s tongue. In nearby ditches and low areas, one can find blue mistflower, and Joe Pye weed putting on a show, offering beautiful, long-lasting stems for flower arrangements to bring indoors.
Browse our selection of fall-blooming native perennials in our ongoing deck sale, and join us for our Fall Native Plant Sale that will take place Friday and Saturday, October 16 and 17.

Thanks to the efforts of the Crosby Arboretum’s Green Team, largely composed of Pearl River County Master Gardeners, we will be offering a large number of outstanding high-performing, low-maintenance native perennials such as beeblossom, blazing star, Stokes’ Aster, cardinal flower, purple coneflower, scarlet sage and blanket flower. These are tough-as-nails perennials that will attract pollinators, hummingbirds, butterflies and other wildlife to your garden, and inspire you to pull up a chair and watch the activity!

For more information, please call 601-799-2311 or visit www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. You may sign up on our website to receive updates of The Crosby Arboretum’s activities and programs. We are open Wednesday through Sunday and located in Picayune, I-59 Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road. Exit gates are closed at 4:30 p.m. The business office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.