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Native of Corinth plant expert to share knowledge during book signing

Garden designer Suzy Askew (left) will present a talk about native plants at the Crossroads Museum.

By Jebb Johnston


When it comes to native plants, Suzy Askew can set the record straight.

The Corinth native and author of "Native Plants of Tennessee: A Book of Lists" will do a talk and book signing at the Crossroads Museum from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 13. The book costs $20 with all proceeds going to the Native Plants Fund of the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs.

The Memphis resident recalls her interest in native plants taking root while growing up in northeast Mississippi. While living in Corinth, her family bought a tree farm in Tishomingo County.

"We would go out probably once a month and take a long walk down into the acreage," Askew said. "That's a really distinct biome in Mississippi. It's really more like northern Alabama because it's in the foothills of the Appalachians. There are some great plants over there that you wouldn't see a few miles away, including some native orchids and bird's-foot violets and huckleberries that we saw as children that we didn't see growing in the woods in Corinth. It was an amazing adventure to walk through."

Askew will share some insights on the use of native plants.

"My garden is balanced with most everything," she said. "I really love boxwoods and camellias and daffodils — those are all introduced. But I also have interplanted within that some of the straight species that insects and pollinators love."

Askew attended Mississippi State University and Ole Miss for undergraduate and graduate degrees in teaching. When she was in her 40s, she earned a degree in landscape architecture at the University of Virginia and describes herself as a garden designer.

Her work in Memphis included stints with the Lichterman Nature Center and the Dixon Gallery and Gardens.

The ecological importance of native plants is part of Askew's message.

"One of the things I point out in the book," she said, "is when you buy things that you think are native plants, make sure that they are straight species, which means they have been openly pollinated and they have not been genetically altered. To keep the balance in nature, we need our straight species, and yet nurseries are hybridizing natives as fast as they can."

The book focuses on garden-friendly plants.

"Native plants have a lot to offer" and are as dynamic and beautiful as the alternatives, said Askew.

And, in addition, "They serve a higher function," she said.

It is also important to plant natives in home gardens because so much natural habitat is being destroyed, Askew said.

The event is presented by the Crossroads Museum and Suzanne Sandy.