Bobbi Bishop stops her golf cart in front of a cluster of decapitated daylilies at Bishop Educational Gardens in Hocking County.

“Deer,” she says, shaking her head sadly. “They’ve been awful this year.” Bobbi doesn’t seem to begrudge the deer a meal. But with Lilyfest only a week away, it means the gardens won’t be as vibrant as she’d hoped. Even without the lilies, however, the grounds are fizzing with flowers, butterflies, and even gnomes.

Bobbi, recipient of Rural Action’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Sustainability Award, steers the cart toward a riot of blue hydrangeas that seem determined to make up for the missing lilies. “Our hydrangeas haven’t bloomed for three years, but they are this year,” she says. “They are my redeeming flowers this year.”

Bobbi Bishop pauses to admire the blue hydrangeas at Bishop Educational Gardens.

Bobbi and her husband, Bruce, purchased this land in Hocking County in 1976. They upcycled and recycled their way to paradise, creating a 36-acre showcase for nature that they donated to Hocking Soil & Water Conservation District in 2008, which uses the grounds for environmental education. The Paul B. Hoskins nature trail, for instance, features a variety of trees with plaques that help visitors learn the names of each. Bobbi stops the golf cart near the trail to marvel at a cluster of chanterelles emerging from the moss.

Lilyfest, the annual fundraiser for the facility, was held July 9-11 this year and is dedicated to the memory of Bruce, whose ashes, along with those of Bobbi’s father and stepmother, are scattered in the Memorial Garden on the grounds. Bobbi continues to call the Educational Gardens home, living in a cabin on site.

Bobbi’s interest in recycling, reusing, and repurposing was sparked during a sculpture class at Ohio State University where the instructor challenged students to gather trash along the banks of the Olentangy River and turn it into art. Bobbi was hooked. “The amount of trash was unbelievable, and the artwork was amazing,” she says. Based on that experience, Bobbi went on to create a noon art program for elementary students at Worthington Public Schools.

While preparing for Lilyfest, Bobbi is asked about several muscular tomato plants in a nearby planter. “We’re using compost for Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers there,” she explains. In addition, there are compost piles throughout the gardens, and everything gets reused. When a tree falls, it gets repurposed as a bench.

Bobbi also volunteers with the Hocking Hocking Hills Tourism Association, where she serves as a board member. And one of her passions is the Empty Bowls fundraiser, which benefits local food pantries via the United Way of Hocking County. She and other potters create hundreds of bowls for the event, which raises thousands of dollars each fall.

Bishop Educational Gardens is open by appointment only. Just call 740-385-3016 to let them know when you’d like to visit.

(This is part of a series of stories highlighting the winners of Rural Action’s 2021 Sustainability Awards. Learn how your neighbors are making our little corner of Appalachia an even better place.)

Meet the Award Recipients