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Narrative sessions tell stories of plants, people
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Knowing that people remember and pass on stories while facts are often forgotten, a Mississippi State University horticulture specialist is hosting a series of storytelling events centered on plants.
Geoff Denny, an MSU Extension horticulturist, launched the storytelling series, The Story of Plants and People, hosted by the Mississippi State Trial Gardens. Monthly sessions cover such topics as azaleas, African crops in Mississippi gardens, and William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak.
“This isn’t a how-to or someone’s list of 10 favorite plants,” Denny said. “There’s a human story behind so many of our plants, and this narrative series tries to tell some of those stories.”
In May, Rick Webb, who with his wife, Susan, owns Louisiana Growers, spoke on functional landscapes, with an emphasis on the value and beauty of using native plants in modern landscapes. His wholesale nursery in Amite, Louisiana, specializes in trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers native to the Gulf Coast.
“When I see pitcher plants, I see a chorus. I see songs,” Webb said, praising the elegance of a native plant sometimes overlooked as a design element in landscapes.
He is a proponent of using native plants and natural design when planning landscapes.
“Think about how the native fauna, including humans, use the land and how that could change over time,” Webb said. “Think about how the garden will evolve over time, but don’t overthink the process.”
He said native plants are good additions to landscapes because they feed and support native wildlife, manage water, have minimal maintenance costs and can restore damage done by previous generations.
“We can use our urban landscapes to replace what would have been there,” Webb said.
Each month, Denny brings in a speaker from somewhere in the Southeast to talk about plants in an unexpected way.
“These are plant talks for people who aren’t into plants. Plant people in general do a pretty good job reaching gardeners. Part of the mission of the trial gardens has been to engage with non-gardeners, to introduce them to a hobby or plants in general.
“We came up with the idea of using narratives to help people build a relationship with plants,” Denny said. “We’re trying to create the overlap between people stories -- history, culture and whatever -- and show how entwined with plants we are.”
For example, the August speaker is Charles Freeman, an MSU assistant professor of apparel, textiles and merchandising, who will talk about plants from the perspective of fiber.
“That storytelling session is as much about fashion as the actual plants,” Denny said. “If you think about it, about the only time you’re not physically touching a plant is when you’re naked in the shower.”
Upcoming topics include The Story of the Birds and Bees: Protecting Pollinator Health on June 25 and The Story of Humanity’s First Apothecary: Plants and Chemistry on July 30.
Each session is held at 6:30 p.m. at the MSU Bost Conference Center. Refreshments are provided, and there is no cost to attend. Past storytelling sessions are archived and can be viewed at http://extension.msstate.edu/lawn-and-garden/story-of-plants-and-people.