Annual Landscaping Camp shows gardening enthusiasts the beauty of Oxford

Published 4:30 pm Monday, May 30, 2022

The Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation rolled out the green carpet once again for its 5th Annual Landscaping Camp.

“This year’s camp celebrated our fifth year which included 53 campers coming from a wide range of states from California, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and all across Mississippi with twelve returning from the previous year,” said Rosie Vasallo, Director of Retiree Attraction for the Oxford-Lafayette Economic Development Foundation.

“I was surprised by how many people come back year after year,” said Jeff McManus, University of Mississippi’s Director of Landscape Services. “People enjoy participating and the tours, but I did not expect the retention rate to be as high as it was.”

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On Friday, the 53 guests were treated to an exclusive yard tour of the landscaped home of Dr. Bo and Jodie Marsalis followed by a dinner reception. Saturday, guests got an earlier start with breakfast at 7:30 followed by a two-hour walking tour of the University of Mississippi campus.

After the tour, they attended workshops by Plantscaper owner Wendy Carmean on “Front Porch Curb Appeal;” Ken Hackman, Zoological Field Studies Coordinator for Madison Central High School, on “Gardening For the Birds;” and Karen Travillo, a Master Gardener for Lafayette County, on “Attractive Fast Growing Noninvasive Vines.”

The entire experience was led by McManus, who is credited for helping the university gain numerous accolades as “The Most Beautiful Campus” by national publications like Newsweek, The Princeton Review and USA Today.

During the Landscaping Camp, McManus would serve as keynote speaker at the reception and guide for the Ole Miss campus tour. He would also teach two of the five workshops on essential garden tips and his most famous skill: pruning.

The organizers credit part of the camp’s success to regional and national advertising in publications like Veranda, Southern Home and The Eagle, but they also acknowledge that their guests create an emotional connection to the camp and its environment.

“Taking this tour has been absolutely fabulous,” said Ellen Brooks of Brandon, Mississippi. “I’ve learned so much on how to take care of plants and shrubs. This and Ole Miss is more than I ever thought.”

Brooks found an advertisement for the Landscaping Camp in Southern Home Magazine and knew she had to come. 

“The landscape of Ole Miss, its gardens and its parks all intermingled between the buildings are all beautifully well done,” Brooks said. “I’ve been to Oxford and I just moved to Mississippi six months ago so this is a great bucket list item. If I’d known about Ole Miss coming out of high school, I may have gone here.”

“I think the people who come here have a passion either for gardening, Ole Miss or Oxford and they want to experience that,” said McManus. “They want to experience all of those together, so this a great place for them to come and meet new people who have that same passion.”

McManus credits Vasallo for making the camp’s guests feel welcomed and a part of a community.

“As soon as you sign up, she’s emailing you and giving you details,” he said. “She’s following up with you. So you feel part of something and you feel part of the group.”

In addition to teaching others and fostering connections, the EDF and Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce wants to showcase the best of what Oxford has to offer.

“You start looking at how many people come here and move here,” said McManus. “The Chamber says, ‘How do we show off Oxford? How do we attract people that we want or want to retire here?’ Oxford’s a big retirement community. It’s a good group to have here and the demographic works well.”

And what better way to attract visitors and potential retirees than showcasing the signature brands of Ole Miss?

“We are known for sports but we are known for our beauty,” McManus said. “Our beauty and our people. Our beautiful campus and our beautiful relationships. Ole Miss has led the way in trying so many things that the rest of the world is struggling with. No, we’re not perfect by any means but we have tried and you see where people are coming together to do good things.”