May 14, 2011 11:38:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
It''s just possible that Bill Poe is happiest these days sitting on his "observation deck," looking out over his own slice of Serengeti paradise. At a nearby watering hole, elephants play, their rippling melody refreshing as the sun sets on a long, hot day. Giraffe, in lumbering grace, cross a grassy plain as, in the distance, wild ostrich hover protectively near a nest of eggs.
And the best part is, Bill Poe is eager to share it. His unique compact garden in the heart of Starkville''s Cotton District is one of seven that will welcome visitors Saturday, May 21, during the Starkville Area Arts Council''s Art in the Garden Tour from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Five of the gardens, like Poe''s, will showcase visual and performing artists, enhancing the tour experience that recognizes gardening, too, is an art form.
Most of Poe''s African wildlife, of course, roam near city center via oversized outdoor murals, while the elephants spout water from topiary trunks. Surrounded by rock, dotted with hosta, hydrangea, weeping mulberry and towering oak, they''re all part of a scenic delight inspired by one of Poe''s many global adventures.
"After I returned from a trip to Africa in 2007, I was on a Serengeti high," he smiled, sipping a late-afternoon "geti-ade," relaxed in a outdoor rocker, ceiling fan whirring overhead. One gets the impression this retired Mississippi State University biochemist smiles often.
He points out a snow-white big leaf hydrangea that prompted artist Dylan Karges to begin a drawing Tuesday. Karges will be at his easel in Poe''s garden during the tour, but he actually wears two Art in the Garden hats: He''s also president of the SAAC Board of Directors.
"Our mission (with Art in the Garden) is to heighten the visibility and engagement in appreciation of the arts, to get people out so they can create a forum to share and inspire others to raise the bar for their gardens and the general aesthetics for the town," he said.
Wanda Thorne and Suzy Turner co-chair the arts council fundraiser.
"Having the artists, dancers and musicians in the gardens really makes this event distinctive," said Thorne. "And we have a real variety of gardens to show."
A few highlights to be discovered on the tour include roses, a cut-flower garden and muscadine vineyard at the home of Wanda and Paul Cheek; a courtyard-style garden with fountains and whimsical statuary at Nina and Jackie Wofford''s house; meandering pathways and impressive climbing roses on the Becky and Joe Stockwell property; and a working model train, wind chimes, stained glass and belvedere in the garden of Diana and Duane Lyon.
"I love being outside in the garden," said Duane, who designed the train feature, with its bridges, tunnels, gorge and miniature village. "It''s fun to share it and fun to see other people''s gardens," he added, echoing Poe''s feelings.
Members of Starkville garden clubs and the Starkville Rose Society will act as hostesses and provide refreshments during the tour, which will benefit SAAC programs, including scholarships to Oktibbeha County schools.
Two public gardens in Starkville will also be open Saturday: the Rain Garden at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum, 206 Fellowship St., and the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden on MSU''s North Farm on Highway 182. Both will have personnel on hand during tour hours to direct attention and answer questions.
Back at Bill Poe''s home on Cotton Row, the energetic retiree looks forward to welcoming visitors to view the flora -- and fauna -- that fill his serene Serengeti retreat. And Thorne and Turner hope to encourage other green thumbs to consider sharing their gardens for future tours.
"People think their gardens have to be perfect," Turner said, "but actually we prefer different kinds of gardens rather than perfect gardens. They''re all wonderful in their own way."
How to go
Tickets for the Art in the Garden Tour are $15, available in Starkville through May 20 at the SAAC office, 101 S. Lafayette St., and East Mississippi Lumber Co., 300 Russell St. Purchase tickets Saturday at the Starkville Community Theater lobby, in the Playhouse on Main at 108 E. Main St., from 8 a.m.-noon. For more information, contact the SAAC at 662-324-3080.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.