Playing in the dirt leads to a horticultural career


This late-1950s photograph contains proof that Patricia Drackett has a lifelong love of playing in the dirt with worms, nature’s original gardeners. Today, Drackett serves as the director of Mississippi State University’s Crosby Arboretum near Picayune.

Patricia Drackett has a life-long love of playing in the dirt with worms, nature’s original gardeners, and she has the picture to prove it.

The photo of a little girl covered in dirt and holding a long earthworm is old and faded, but it remains one of Drackett’s most treasured possessions, especially after it survived Hurricane Katrina. She said her love for plants started with pulling weeds in her grandmother’s garden.

“People in plant-related fields often look back to their childhood for the origins of their career path,” she said.

Today, Drackett serves as the director of Mississippi State University’s Crosby Arboretum near Picayune. She earned a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University. She spent 20 years as a landscape designer and horticultural consultant before working at the arboretum.

“Crosby Arboretum is a manmade garden, but it looks very natural. We enjoy seeing school children discovering all that nature offers,” she said. “Nature experiences are very tactile. Sensory gardens promote learning, health and exercise, and they improve retention.”

Drackett said she wants to empower citizens in Mississippi to make wiser decisions in their yards.

“They need to find the right plant for the right place; that way they only dig a hole once and the plant lives forever,” she said.

Drackett found much of her inspiration to inspire others from University of Tennessee professor Ed Clebsch in her first botany class. She described him as someone who “made botany fun” and influenced students to appreciate the plants around them.

“He taught me about plants like dog hobble and where it got its name,” she said. “I learned that stinging nettle would sting your bare legs, but the jewel weed growing in the same soil would soothe the sting. That was interesting stuff.”

Drackett said Clebsch taught through hands-on learning experiences while walking across campus or on extended field trips to the Smoky Mountains and the Florida Panhandle. Students enjoyed the sun and experienced mosquitoes, wind and rain while studying plant ecology.

Clebsch, in turn, remembers Drackett as an unusually motivated student.

“In addition to being interested in horticulture and the science of botany, Pat had an artistic bent that few students have,” he said.

Clebsch, who taught at UT-Knoxville for more than 30 years, said it deepens his sense of responsibility and humility as a teacher to find that former students “blame” him for influencing their career paths.

“That’s one reason I tried to make botany fun -- to awaken a joy of learning and understanding among the students,” he said.

Clebsch and Drackett have seen their share of students who did not see how botany could be fun but then changed their minds.

“My most memorable tours at the Crosby Arboretum are when urban school children come and discover what nature has to offer,” Drackett said. “I love getting to walk with them through the woods and see things freshly through their eyes.”

Linda Breazeale | MSU Ag Communications

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