Into the Wild

Landscaping Camp Growing Flowers and Fans

By Verna Gates
Photography courtesy of Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and the
Economic Development Foundation Retirement Attraction Program

Summer camp – a time to sing Kumbaya around the campfire and tell bad jokes and classic ghost stories. Or not. For adults, it means thinking outside of the boxwood.
In Landscaping Camp, the only songs are the ones that vibrate from the throats of warblers as adults will be participating in three days of garden intensives. Set for May 25-27 in Oxford, Mississippi, the camp will explore everything from pruning to cutting flowers and to what herbs went into William Faulkner’s whiskies at Rowan Oak. Participants will indulge their passion for outdoor spaces with classes and field trips emanating from the Inn at Ole Miss.
Landscape Camp emerged from the local pride in the University of Mississippi. Named the most beautiful college campus in America by numerous publications, Ole Miss supplied the idea that others might be interested in their gardening acumen. Director of Landscape Services Jeff McManus is known as the genius behind the exquisite grounds. He agreed to share his secrets of creating beauty from nature’s palette when the camp launched to great fanfare last year.
“Jeff is the reason people come to see the campus. Last year, we were amazed by the camp’s success and by the people who came from multiple states to attend,” says Rosie Vassallo, Director of Retirement Attraction for the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation.
McManus will teach campers how to grow and also how to “Prune Like a Pro.” The keynote speaker, he will discuss gardening and his book, “Growing Weeders to Leaders.” When he took over the campus grounds in 2000, McManus accepted a challenge with stagnant budgets and high standards. By growing his staff into leaders from the ground up, literally, he increased satisfaction in both results: plants and people. Native plants and other low maintenance garden inhabitants are among his recommendations for today’s landscape. He will sign his book after his talk.

While McManus remains the star of the show, other Mississippi experts such as Donna Yowell will also speak. Yowell’s program about cut flowers was so popular last year, she was invited again this year to talk more about growing a personal florist shop. Yowell grew flowers for cutting at the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, saving taxpayers’ monies spent on florists.
After Yowell cuts the flowers, Nellie Neal, The Garden Mama radio host, will teach campers how to contain them. A certified master gardener and blogger/radio host, Neal uses container gardening for herbs, flowers and vegetables.
Of course, while plants are beautiful to look at, they are also tasty. What Southern meal would be complete without fried okra or sweet potatoes? Connecting the garden to the table has long been the domain of Southern cooks. “Explore the links between the Southern garden, Southern food, and the Southern larder” will be presented by Melissa Booth Hall, managing director of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
One of the more fascinating programs takes participants back in time, to when William Faulkner might have offered you a mint julep from the porch of Rowan Oak. Instead, you will study what plants, besides mint, were cultivated during the writer’s life at his beloved home. Aside from his fame as a writer, Faulkner also lived off of the land. From bourbon enhancers to food plants, this field trip explores what grew on the estate. The tour is led by Ed Croom, a retired Ole Miss botanist and the author of “The Land of Rowan Oak, An Exploration of Faulkner’s Natural World.”
While beauty may sound like a luxury, it is essential to building a community. Research proves that a beautiful space is a loved space: one of the top three factors in creating attachment and loyalty, to a town, city or neighborhood. Good Housekeeping estimates that 75 percent of homeowners spend time and/or money on their yards. Last year, 117.6 million people in the United States worked in a garden during the previous 12 months, according to Statista, the Statistics Portal. With 326 million Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that means that more than a third of everyone in the U.S. likes to garden. The statistics get even higher when it comes to retirees, which is where Vassallo comes in.
“My job is to let people know that Oxford is a great place to live. Showcasing our university is our number one asset,” says Vassallo, who specializes in attracting people looking for a place to retire.
In its second year, Landscape Camp is growing like a weed, so to speak. For adults, learning how to surround themselves with beauty is every bit as good as the roasted marshmallows of their youth.
An early bird special for $300 per person (excluding hotel accommodations) is available through March 31. The camp fee increases to $375 on April 1. For information, contact Rosie Vassallo by email at or by phone 662-234-4651.

Read More in DeSoto Magazine online.