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Preserved: a Cypress Preserve may seem like an unusual place for a Garden Club to gather, but for this group, it was the perfect setting.

THIS PAGE: The luncheon tables of the Garden Club of America's Zone IX Meeting were accented with natural materials and topiaries of local wildlife. INSET: Author and entomologist Douglas Tallamy spoke to the group. OPPOSITE PAGE: Greenville's Cypress Preserve is the result of the dedication and work of Greenville Garden Cub in 1940.

at the Cypress Preserve in Greenville, a handsome wood duck, atop his custom-made wood duck house, patiently surveys the scene beneath the centuries old, venerable trees of the swamp while an iridescent blue dragonfly skims over the still, tannin-hued water of the slough. A prothonotary warbler methodically inspects nesting sites, and overhead, cedar waxwings, in the feathery boughs of the cypress trees, partake in one last meal before migration. And out on the meadow, far from the madding crowd, there is a gathering of another kind for The Garden Club of America's 2012 Zone IX meeting.

The Cypress Preserve, a remnant of the once-vast swathes of cypress brakes indigenous to the Mississippi Delta, was rescued from destruction and encroaching development by Greenville Garden Club in 1940. With foresight and vision uncommon for that era, the club purchased the 16-acre tract and thus, preserved part of the Delta's natural heritage for future generations. In 2002, the club conveyed a conservation easement to the Greenville Cypress Preserve Trust.

This forested swamp of the Mississippi floodplain is a refuge for many different species of native plants and wildlife, especially birds. Located in the Mississippi Flyway, migratory birds pass through in record numbers, and the Bob Gramling Observation Deck is an ideal location to observe birds and the other creatures that inhabit this unique wetland.



The bald cypress tree is, however, the elder statesman of this forested swamp. Able to withstand and thrive in this watery environment, this tree can reach extraordinary heights. The bald cypress is the only conifer in the South that is deciduous. In the fall, the leaves of these trees turn cinnamon brown, and the swamp takes on a different character.

The Cypress Preserve may seem like an incongruous place for a garden club to gather, but it was the perfect setting for this group of like-minded women. The organization's stated purpose is to "restore, improve, and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement." (In Mississippi, only three garden clubs other than Greenville-Jackson, Laurel and Natchez-are members of The Garden Club of America.) Delegates from five states gathered in this historic Mississippi River town in late spring for this meeting. The theme for the event was "The Delta-Our Land, Literature, and Living the Blues."

Beneath a tent set up in the meadow, the delegates dined on typical Delta cuisine at tables bedecked with garden flowers, natural materials, and topiaries of birds and turtles and insects that inhabit this habitat. Cypress knees sported bouquets, and Jackson vine, that vigorous clambering vine of the Big Woods, was festooned from the ceiling.

But as festive as the luncheon was, it was also educational. Noted author and entomologist Douglas Tallamy lectured on his compelling book, Bringing Nature Home. His lecture focused on the importance of using native plants in the landscape as a means of sustaining wildlife. After the luncheon, members were given a guided tour of the Cypress Preserve.

At the Delta Research and Extension Center in nearby Stoneville, the group held business meetings, and at the Capps Center, there was a juried flower show.


The theme for the flower show was "The Delta Blues." Floral designs that evoked the emotional, poignant, and sometimes humorous lyrics of these soulful Mississippi songs were innovative, whimsical, and artistic. Even the likes of Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson would have been impressed by the floral interpretations of their music by these creative garden club members. Samples of flawless horticulture that had traveled miles unscathed were also on display.

But, of course, the highlight of this event was the warm hospitality shown by Greenville Garden Club. Members opened their homes and gardens for tours and elegant seated dinners. The culmination of the Zone IX meeting was a black-tie dinner at the Bass Cultural Arts Center. Each table at this gala celebrated the literary works of the many noted writers who were nurtured in the culture of the Delta.

Gracious entertaining and hospitality, in spite of devastating floods, boll weevils, and economic downturns, are time-honored Delta traditions. Delta weddings, cuisine, and parties are legendary. As the host for the 2012 Zone IX meeting of the Garden Club of America, Greenville Garden Club upheld the Delta's reputation for hospitality.

The guests have now long since departed, and the hard work of hosting such an event is behind them. But like the cypress trees that stand vigil at the preserve, the civic improvements and conservation endeavors of The Garden Club of America will endure, as will the Delta welcome of Greenville Garden Club.

by margaret gratz photography by michael a. kelly
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Title Annotation:garden
Author:Gratz, Margaret
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:May 1, 2012
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