Plants hold a fascination for Burnham

By Gwen Sisson/Starkville Daily News

STARKVILLE — He loves to see how they grow. He loves to hybridize day lilies to create brand new varieties. And he loves the everyday changes of the garden.

“There is something new to anticipate every day in the garden,” said Milo Burnham, local gardener and retired horticulturist from Mississippi State University Extension. “It is all about the anticipation, looking forward to tomorrow. I love getting up to look around the garden every day. There is always something new. Every day is like Christmas in the garden.”

And there is a story with every plant. From the front lawn, through the house, to the backyard — the garden is an extension of Burnham’s life.

In the front, a wide variety of colorful plantings provide an exciting entrance. Many tropical plants are in pots, to allow for easy transport to the garage which serves as a greenhouse for the winter. Tropical plants that will not grow anywhere else in Starkville, are thriving at Burnham’s.

In June and July, an exciting variety of day lilies, including special hybrids can be found in the sunny front lawn. And while making a way through the house, the kitchen counter is covered with special hybridized day lily seeds that Burnham has marked on cards and will be preparing for planting.

The backyard garden is a horticulturalists delight.

The stories range from throwaways that he has been able to revive, to plants for special events around town that have found their way into the garden. Plants that will not survive in the ground are given a second chance in a pot. Burnham said it has been interesting to see what thrives where.

He said hostas do a lot better in pots than in the ground in his garden. There are two types of Camellias that will grow locally — japonica and sasanqua. One will flourish in the ground, and the other species will only grow in a pot for Burnham.

“I am a horticulturist, not a landscape architect,” Burnham said. “I cannot conceptualize layout, but growing plants is something I have always loved.”

When Burnham and his family moved into the Longmeadow neighborhood of Starkville, the backyard was filled with pine trees. His first project was to have some semblance of a yard. He moved pine needles around as long as could.

His friend and co-worker, Jim Perry, laid out a basic plan for flower beds and Burnham has placed all the plants and created the fish ponds.

One ice storm after another caused the slow removal of pine trees over the years. The December ice storm of 1998 was the last straw. It all but destroyed most of the backyard and all remaining pine trees had to go.

As the trees have been removed, the garden has changed and continues to evolve.

Wanda Thorne, avid gardener and Burnham’s next door neighbor said Burnham is an invaluable resource for plant information.

Around town, numerous gardeners call Burnham with questions about plants and growing locally.

Local gardener Emily Jones said Burnham is a wealth of gardening knowledge.

Burnham said he has always remembers working in the garden at his home in New Jersey. Even as a child under 5-years-old, he remembers gardening with his next door neighbor, Blanche Bell.

“She was from Georgia and I remember her having plants like mimosa, okra, and nandina,” Burnham said. “When I was a little older, we would drink tea together and swap plants. We had a great friendship.”

A photo of Bell hangs in Burnham’s home. He learned so much from her, but the biggest lesson was the every day joy of working in the garden.

“I have to work in the garden,” Burnham said. “It is like therapy for me. I enjoy the garden, whether it is hot, cold, wet or dry out there. It is fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

“This is my garden and it is perfect for me. It is not a showplace. It is a way of life.”