- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

QUITMAN, Texas (AP) - Groundhog Day is fast approaching, but green thumbs in Quitman are already elbow-deep in spring projects.

The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports supporters of the Quitman Arboretum & Botanical Gardens have launched an education outreach series, Nature University, to help people better understand the world around them.

The Jan. 20 inaugural class focused on organic gardening, but the education series is not expected to focus solely on plants, said class organizer and garden guru Lin Grado.

Explaining its origins, she said, “I had attended a workshop in Tyler about invasive species. I thought, ‘Gosh, it’s a shame we don’t have something like this in Wood County.’”

At the urging of like-minded plant enthusiasts, Grado decided it was possible and organized a series of workshops for the arboretum that are both educational and meaningful - among them, identifying snakes that might enjoy hanging out in the home garden.

“It should be very educational for everyone,” she said. “We’re really excited.”

Quitman may be a small town by many standards, but its arboretum can rival many big city garden destinations.

The grounds, 100 Governor Hogg Parkway off Texas Highway 37, span about 23 acres and include amenities to appeal to outdoor types and plant lovers - a walking trail, sensory garden and “water wise” area that highlights native plants and conservation techniques.

History buffs visiting the attraction might want to check out the 1869 Stinson House, open by appointment and available for special events.

The nature series is not an isolated venture for the group. Volunteers hold monthly events, including as an example, a Valentine’s Day dinner in February.

The group holds twice annual plant sales, which help support operations, said volunteer Deanna Caldwell.

None of these events unfold without an abundance of effort.

Wednesdays at the arboretum are earmarked as workdays, giving volunteers with pent up energy a chance from 9 a.m. to noon to sink a shovel or turn a trowel.

There are also mini-workshops offered the third Monday of every month, allowing participants an opportunity to work with experts on a topic relating to working with plants.

Garden enthusiast Pam Riley is the founder all this fun.

“We (arboretum) just had our 10 year anniversary,” she said. “I had joined the Master Gardeners in 2007 and there wasn’t a big project in Quitman. I wanted to start an arboretum.”

She honed in on a local park, once a state park gifted to the city in the 1990s.

The group approached the city about letting the organization lay claim to the property.

Fast forward a few years, the arboretum could be described as a slice of heaven for people who don’t mind dirt under their fingernails.

Along the way, the gardeners transformed themselves into a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Arboretum.

The group also accepted care and oversight of the old Stinson house, original to the Pine Mills community.

For the curious, the house holds historical significance because of its ties to late Texas Gov. Jim Hogg. It was constructed by sawmill owner James A. Stinson, whose daughter Sallie married Hogg in the home in 1874.

The house was relocated in the 1960s to its current location.

The first class of the Nature University series - Organic Gardening 101 - featured environmentally friendly information from Holly Ross of Hollyberry Herb Farm.

Organic gardening is a healthy alternative to dealing with potentially toxic chemicals and pesticides, Ross said, adding, it’s also educational and lots of fun.

“All of us are responsible for caring for the soil,” she said. “There is no advocate for the earth, but us, as the humans who live on it.”

In future Nature University sessions, the Feb. 17 class on tree identification is expected to feature remarks from a forester and nature hike to survey existing specimens, many of which are deciduous and absent of leaves.

The March 17 class is expected to feature an expert from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and focus on the spread of nonnative species.

Successful class participants can be certified as “citizen scientists,” which makes them qualified to help with a survey to identify and record plant invaders in the area.

“That will be an all-day class and we’ll learn to identify exotic invasive plant species,” said Grado, the green guru. “It can mean grant money to help eradicate it.”

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This story has been corrected to show the first class was Jan. 20, not Jan. 13

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Information from: Tyler Morning Telegraph, http://www.tylerpaper.com


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