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Surrounded By Beauty


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

Everything was in full bloom for the Summer Celebration Lawn & Garden Show, July 13, 2017 at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Jackson, Tenn. The UT Gardens held a vast array of treats for the eyes – from perennials to annuals to bottle trees, and all kinds of whimsical landscaping accoutrements. Vendors brought their own beautiful plants, jewelry, artistry and creativity to add to the delight. Yes, it was hot, in the mid-90s with plenty of sun, but that’s what one expects in the mid-south in July.

There’s much to be said for surrounding oneself with plants and blooming flowers. “Being around plants helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.

“Keeping ornamental plants in the home and in the workplace increases memory retention and concentration. The calming influence of natural environments is conducive to positive work environments by increasing a person’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Work performed under the natural influence of ornamental plants is normally of higher quality and completed with a much higher accuracy rate than work done in environments devoid of nature. Going outside or being under the influence of plants can increase memory retention up to twenty percent, a recent University of Michigan study showed (Sewach). The effect of nature in the home and in the workplace serves to stimulate both the senses and the mind, improving mental cognition and performance.” (excerpt from “Health and well-being benefits of plants”)

Many people in the mid-south must believe in these benefits, too, as about 1800 visitors attended the all-day garden event. Workshops ran from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. covering a wide variety of topics. Tents were set up for the outdoor presentations, and to get some heat relief, visitors could enjoy indoor workshops, including cooking demonstrations by the UT Kitchen Divas.

Carol Reese, Research Horticulture Specialist at UT West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center,gave advice for gardening on a hillside, where water and gravity can erode good soil. She had several engineering options to alleviate or minimize the problem and recommendations for choosing the right plants for these locations.

Dale Skaggs, Director of Horticulture at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, had some good advice and beautiful slides illustrating how to design your landscape to fit your site and elements to consider before you plant. Find more about Dale at: about the Dixon at

Lucas Holman offered alternatives to landscape plantings that everyone else has. He showed how to add plants that are unexpected, memorable and maybe even a little strange to your landscape.

Wondering what plants grow in shade or full sun, which need water or can tolerate drought? Marty DeHart, from Nashville Public Television’s Volunteer Gardener had the answers. He even showed how to make the strip between the street and sidewalk a burst of color. Find more information about the Volunteer Gardener at:
Carol Reese was back with Growing Undercover. What: spy- and CIA-plants? Carol showed what to plant and how to plant beneath mature trees for show-stopping undercover plantings done right.

The UT Extension Kitchen Divas had tips for saving time, money, and your sanity for cooking meals at home that often get put on the back burner (pun intended). The Divas showed tips for meal prep that cut out the stress and expenses. They even shared their favorite kitchen hack recipes online at:
Want to know what types of turf work well in shady areas? UT Turf Master Tom Samples had the answers.

Jim Crowder of the Memphis Botanic Garden talked about “Plants That Don’t Give A Damp,” i.e., plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet and can live well in perpetually moist soil.

Polly Rooker, wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, showed how to attract beneficial wildlife to your garden – and how to evict unwelcome pests.

Jason Reeves, Curator of UT Gardens Jackson, relieved folks’ Hydrangea Hysteria with advice on pruning and care for different types of hydrangeas. On display at the gardens were some very fine specimens of hydrangeas, too! He also talked about annuals that add beautiful color to the summer landscape. If he had to pick one, he said, that would tolerate the south’s heat and dry conditions, his favorite is lantana – and there are many colorful varieties of this virtually maintenance free plant.

For the vegetable gardener, Lucas Holman showed how to get the most out of your vegetable garden regardless of the square footage. He covered soil amendment, site preparation, plant spacing, and timing of planting to get high-yielding results for tasty meals.

Tired of the constant battle against those unwanted plants in your garden? Celeste Scott showed efficient strategies for weed management.

So, after all this, if you were inspired to improve your yard, garden, and landscape, there were plenty of plants to take home. The Master Gardeners offered a large selection of perennials, shrubs, and even trees. For those with smaller spaces, Gardens Oy Vey brought an array of container gardens. See more of their nursery offerings at:

There were ornamental bird houses to add to your garden décor.  And Tim Pace, with his creative metal recycling, brought his whimsical garden art items made from ordinary, discarded pieces of metal – like an old shovel (sans the handle). See his designs at:

Jacque Hillman brought her Reconfigured Art Jewelry.She is a member of the West Tennessee Artisan Trail. See more at:

The only downside of the whole day’s event was that, with all this inspiration and gardening and landscaping ideas, July and August are not the best months to plant! They are too hot, too dry, and the soil is too compacted. But keep these ideas for fall and next spring’s plantings.

If you missed this UT Ag Field Day, you can read all about it online at: download some of the garden talks.

You can still visit the Gardens in Jackson, Tenn., located at 605 Airways Blvd. (at Hwy 45 Bypass). They are open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Jason Reeves says the gardens really reach their peak in August. “Everything will be filled out and you won’t even be able to see the mulch,” he said. Besides, a regular visit to a garden is good for the mind and soul. Surround yourself in beauty.

“Health and well-being benefits of plants,” Texas A&M University.
Dale Skaggs:
Dixon Gallery & Gardens:
Gardens Oy Vey:
Tim Pace:
Volunteer Gardener at:
West Tennessee Artisan Trail:

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