Saturday, August 27, 2011

Drivin' Me To Milledgeville, or Day Of The Locusts at Lockerly Arboretum

From the time I was a little argumentative kid, my mother used to protest, "You're driving me to Milledgeville!"  That was a common expression of mothers in Georgia. Milledgeville was the home of Central State Hospital, opened in 1842 as Georgia’s first public psychiatric hospital. The saying wasn't meant to derogate patients; if we didn't have family there, at least we knew someone who knew someone there. It's just that no one wanted to go for more than a brief cordial visit. Being driven to Milledgeville meant something more serious. John Quattlebaum (another native Savannahian) and I waxed nostalgic about our mothers' sayings as he steered us toward Lockerly Arboretum in Milledgeville.

When we stepped out of the pickup, we thought it was unfortunate that some factory was situated so nearby to disturb the tranquility. The sound was like severe tinnitus in both ears, or the ambient background noise of a Kurosawa movie turned up loud. It could drive one crazy.

The Lockerly Arboretum is situated on the site of an old plantation formerly known as Rose Hill. It was so named because of an abundance of Cherokee roses that grew there. After the property changed hands a few times, a house fire and rebuilding, it was purchased by Mr. Edward J. Grassmann of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Grassman renovated the house, landscaped the property and operated it as a guest house for corporate visitors of the American Industrial Clay Company. He established the Lockerly Arboretum Foundation in 1965 "to provide outstanding ecological, horticultural and historical education in order to promote preservation and stewardship of the environment."

The English China Clays company bought the house later. The interest in clay was due to generous natural deposits of kaolin in the area. In 1998, the house was obtained by the Arboretum Foundation and opened to the public.

The arboretum consists of fifty acres with woodland, pond and various plant collections joined by nature trails and drives. Plant collections include azaleas and rhododendrons, maples, viburnum, conifers, aquatics and bog plants. Its location, straddling two climate zones, enhances the plant diversity. Lockerly is home to two of Georgia's Champion Trees: Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) and Small-leaf Viburnum (V. obovatum).

Following a map provided, we began with the woodland nature trail. It sounded as though the factory was just behind a hill. We immediately noted the proliferation of native and non-native species such as Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrosticoides), Japanese Marlberry (Ardisia japonica) and East Indian Holly fern (Arachniodes simplicior). Other personal favorites included Wild Gingers (Hexastylis arifolia and H. shuttleworthii), Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'), Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) and Devil's Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa). We visited in early summer, so most of the rhododendrons were past bloom, but some rhododendron flowers were lingering along with a few spider azaleas. One of the highlights for me was finding a Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea), a vine native to the eastern and southern U.S., but somewhat uncommon.

As we walked deeper into the forest, it seemed that the sound of the factory was before, behind and on both sides. It dawned on us that we were hearing cicadas (sometimes called "locusts"), and, sure enough, cicada shells were everywhere. Naturally, Bob Dylan's Day Of The Locusts came to mind.

And the locusts sang, yeah, it give me a chill
Oh, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
Oh, the locusts sang their high whinning trill
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

It was a high whinning trill, but not a sweet melody. Maddening, perhaps. The rest of our visit was accompanied by locusts.

Before we had walked far, my camera batteries gave up the ghost. So, many of the photographs featured here were taken by John Quattlebaum with his trusty Nikon.

Unfortunately, the pond was nearly empty of water, but boggy enough for Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), Elephant Ears (Colocasia spp.), Japanese Iris (I. ensata), and Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis). If filled, the pond might have been home for some native waterfowl.

Though not extensive, the Maple Collection included some decent representatives along with a sizable Acer palmatum dissectum. Though not a maple, a Chinese Parasol tree (Firmiana simplex) drew our attention.

The Viburnum Collection lacked bloom, and some shrubs needed attention. The Conifer Collection is small, but included some of my favorites such as Cryptomeria japonica 'Knaptonensis', C. japonica 'Globosa Nana', Chamaecypris obtusa 'Crippsi', C. pisifera, and Deodar cedars (Cedrus deodora).

With the cicadas still ringing in our ears, I was in the mood to visit Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's Milledgeville home. O'Connor was another native Savannahian that I admire. But the afternoon was wearing, and we needed to get back to Statesboro. We'll save Andalusia for another day.

The Lockerly Arboretum grounds are open Monday through Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It's closed on Sundays. Lockerly Hall may or may not be open for a walk-through when you visit. Guided tours are conducted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays.

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Jean Campbell said...

... reminds me of a trip to Milledgeville State Hospital back in the day. We were visiting our aunt. A man with one leg, walking with a crutch stopped us on the grounds. He looked as if he was made up for the part by Hollywood. "Do you work here?" he asked my brother, who was wearing a suit. Getting a negative answer, he pulled up his coat sleeve revealing an armful of watches. "Then would you like to buy a watch?" he asked.

A. Joseph Marshall said...

Beautiful pictures and prose!