• Invitation Oxford

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Updated: Jun 1, 2019

Written by Rachel A. Ishee | Photographed by Joe Worthem

A New Albany gardener shares decades of experience and plant lore on guided tours of her own yard each spring.

Anyone who is looking for gardening inspiration this spring need look no further than Sherra Owen’s property in New Albany.

The garden grows, climbs and rambles over two acres tended year-round and is designed with homey areas where visitors can gather anytime. From woodland areas to a 300-bulb caladium garden to a collection of bird feeders and wind chimes, Owen’s place is a multi-sensory experience.

“I work to enhance the five senses,” Owen said. “I try to have something that smells good, something that you can taste and, of course, something that looks good.”

Owen began her gardening journey several decades ago when a walk with her friends in the woods piqued her interest in plants native to north Mississippi.

“We started discovering things and they would ask, ‘Sherra, what is this?’” Owen said. “When they left, I went to the library and checked out every wildflower and native plant book that they had, and that’s where it all started.”

Since then, Owen has been busy researching new plant varieties. She has attended a number of native plant and flower conferences throughout the region.

“The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know,” Owen said. “I have been learning about plants for a long time, and I learn a little bit more every day either by experience or by reading.”

Owen’s love for teaching and learning about plants has led her to share her knowledge and her garden with visitors. Every April, she offers public tours that include a guided walk through her garden in its springtime glory. On the tour, Owen educates guests on botany, horticulture and plant lore, from edible and medicinal uses to old wives’ tales.

One of Owen’s favorite topics is the dogwood tree. Centuries ago, people brewed a tea from its bark to use as a substitute for quinine and chewed its twigs to brush their teeth. The dogwood also produces edible berries in the fall.

Owen isn’t sure of the exact number of plant types in her garden, but she said the list of native plants she grows is a whopping five pages long, and she adds more every year.

Of course with any garden there are some challenges, especially with one of this scale. Owen said that her two main struggles so far have been dealing with voles and an invasion of mulberry weeds.

Voles are tiny mouse-like rodents, smaller than gophers and moles, that dig underneath plants and eat their roots, causing the foliage to die.

“I have watched a three-foot plant going down a hole, being pulled by a tiny little vole,” Owen said.

She acknowledged that these issues come along with having a garden, and the only way she has found to combat the voles is by setting traditional mouse traps baited with peanut butter. This solution has been so successful that she has caught up to nine voles in one afternoon.

As for the mulberry weeds, Owen said that the key is to keep the garden fully planted and close together, leaving little space for weeds to grow.

Wondering how she manages tending a garden of this size year-round? Well, Owen has had a little bit of help along the way.

“I have had help for the past 55 years,” Owen said. “I have an awesome husband, and I couldn’t do any of it without Ken.”

From building cedar sheds to shoveling dirt, Owen said that she wouldn’t have been able to keep up the garden without his help throughout the years.

Even with live-in help, keeping up with such a large garden is quite a feat. But, Owen said, because she enjoys gardening so much, it never seems like a chore.

“If you didn’t love working in the garden, then this would all be a daunting task,” Owen said. “But I really enjoy it.”

To arrange a tour of Owen’s garden, call 662-538-8432.

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Oxford, Mississippi | United States

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