Published 2:23 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023
There’s a hidden little public garden in Jackson showcasing herbs and flowers that can take any weather thrown their way.
I’ve been keen my entire career on promoting durable, multi-use garden plants, especially those grown here long before we even had water hoses. You can find a few of them showcased at the Agriculture and Forestry Museum.
The sprawling museum, located just off Interstate 55 on Lakeland Drive/Hwy 25 – close to the fantastic Mississippi Children’s Museum and Museum of Natural Science – features a cavernous building housing world class educational displays of artifacts from all phases of Mississippi agriculture, starting with those of Native Americans through early European settlers, bygone days of simple farm life, and even a modern-day Ag Cat crop dusting plane. Every year, tens of thousands of school children and visitors from all over the world marvel at the simple “make do” ingenuity of those who toiled in fields and forests to make ours such as great agricultural state.
But to me the crème de la crème, sprawling across the site, are the authentic living history farm and “crossroads town” buildings from over a century ago, every hand-hewn log and sawmilled board carefully marked, moved, and rebuilt down to the scuff marks on door handles. During construction in the 1980s I moved the chinaberry, fig, and cedar trees, and a massive “cape jasmine” gardenia, from the original farm site; they’re still kicking in their new settings.
On Saturday, September 9, the museum will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and I will be very happy to chat with you there as I putter around all day in the newly refurbished Herb and Heirloom Plants Garden and giving a talk on them at noon.
With encouragement from legendary Ag Commissioner Jim Buck Ross and guidance from the late Madelene Hill, the South’s top authority on growing historic medicinal and culinary herbs, a group of volunteers created the quaint herb garden behind the 1920s-era doctor’s office.
Now maintained by specially trained Master Gardeners, the historic garden has been refurbished, its arbors, fence, raised beds, and tool shed, which was built to resemble an old outhouse, repaired, and plants consolidated to make sense to modern day visitors.
Without giving too much away about the various traditional medicinal herbs, there is a small new potager-style kitchen garden featuring common, easily grown Southern cuisine potherbs and edible flowers. It includes oregano, basils, rosemary, garlic, lemon grass, spicy peppers, sage, thyme, garlic, chives, perennial Mexican tarragon, kale, violas, parsley, dill, and more. Various mints and their relatives have been moved to their own bed where they can comingle freely.
Just outside the herb garden’s picket fence is the first installment of a new Mississippi Heritage Garden for showing off antique roses and other shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and seasonal annuals which have been grown and shared between gardeners of all backgrounds for many decades.
Think orange daylily, the most grown edible pass-along plant on Earth. There are antique roses, iris, milk-and-wine lily, vitex, basils, burgundy okra, heirloom daffodils, four o’clocks, rose of Sharon, tapioca/cassava, authentic tea camellia, canna, purple queen tradescantia, hardy succulents, and flowering annuals including cockscomb, touch-me-not, and larkspur, and giant “Jack bean” vine… Most were donated by gardeners, and the old tool shed is being converted into a display of still-useful antique tools, some from my own great-grandmother’s garden shed.
If you get a chance, visit that Saturday and let’s chat. Any other time of the year, if you have a group interested in herbs and antique plants, give a heads up and arrange for me or Master
Gardeners to meet you there!
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPBThink Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.