Contact: Meg Henderson
STARKVILLE, Miss.—For the third time since its beginning, and the second time in the last five years, Mississippi State’s display garden at the South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station is a first-place national winner in the All-America Selections annual design challenge in the Under 10,000 Visitors category.
MSU’s Poplarville station, part of the university’s Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, or MAFES, hosts one of nearly 200 AAS display gardens throughout the U.S. and Canada, including other college gardens, botanic gardens, arboretums and a variety of other garden spaces. All AAS display gardens showcase AAS winners, which are non-GMO (non-genetically modified) plants tested independently and judged by horticultural experts.
This year’s challenge theme was “whimsical,” and MSU faculty and staff took inspiration from the term’s origin: the 16th century word “whim-wham,” referring to an ornamental trinket or object. Anchored by a permanent gazebo and small bridge, the garden dazzled visitors with its color wheel of more than 24 ornamental and 10 vegetable AAS-winning plants from years past, dating as far back as the 1960s. Fairies, gnomes and other fanciful creatures added to the whimsy of this living exhibit.
“In 2000, we applied to become an All-America Selection Garden,” said Tricia Knight, research professor and director of coastal horticulture research at MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center. “We have a small garden in a remote location, so receiving this honor three times in that period speaks to the dedication of our faculty, staff and partners.”
The Pearl River County Master Gardeners, who have partnered with MSU faculty and staff in planning, planting and maintaining the AAS display garden since 2018, have played a major role in the garden’s success in recent years and winning the challenge this year. They begin by preparing the soil and planting seeds in January and organize workdays through June, when the garden and number of visitors are at their peak.
“The master gardeners enjoy the spirit and the competition, and they take pride in putting up their sign and having a project they can call theirs,” said Senior Research Associate Scott Langlois. “They are also great with taking direction and working collaboratively with our faculty and staff.”
“This summer was especially tough, with 19 days in a row above 100 degrees,” Knight added. “The master gardeners still came out to take care of the garden, and they showed exceptional passion and energy to keep it looking good even in those challenging conditions.”
Lenore Ladner, master gardener and project coordinator, said, “I am so grateful for accepting this challenge. We have all learned so much from this project, and that has led to our participation in several other projects at the Poplarville station.”
For more on MSU’s South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station, visit https://www.mafes.msstate.edu/branches/coastal.php?location=south. Learn more about MAFES at www.mafes.msstate.edu.
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