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Spring was bursting out all over at Art in Bloom

Nationally known landscape designer Martha Baker was the draw Wednesday as the Stuart Society of the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts continued its weeklong celebration, Art in Bloom.

In a brief visit before her presentation, Baker conceded she was more comfortable digging in the dirt than standing before a room filled with people. Nonetheless, she spoke with ease, showing slides, many taken by her husband, photographer Chuck Baker, that focused her audience's attention on numerous grand gardens and their design elements.

The Bakers, who live in New York City and Shelter Island, have four children. En route to St. Petersburg, she enrolled one of their daughters in tennis camp at Saddlebrook.

In the garden outside the museum's Marly Room before the luncheon, gentle breezes made for a pleasant gathering, though any outdoor gatherings this week might be described as "oaks in bloom." Nearly every surface is golden with pollen.

Several Stuart Society members wore feather flowers crafted by Barbara DeMaire, who fastened a red one to her purse. President Bettye Black wore a purple pouf; Sunny Endicott's was cream; Jane Randall Kirby's featured variegated plumes.

Jeaninne Hascall read from a long-ago diary entry by museum founder Margaret Acheson Stuart, who moved to St. Petersburg for family reasons "but sorry no art museum _- would like to build one." The society that bears her name began in 1962, before the museum itself opened.

It was impossible to greet everyone, but I did see Janis Albritton, Pat Eckert, Lynn Cox, Mary Lou DeVoe, Lisa Landry, Carolyn Bond, Carol Barbosa, Donna Painter, Faye Nielsen and Gail Phares. Annie Harris, a fan of the event in Minneapolis, and Lucy Gomez drove down from Port Richey.

Art in Bloom, modeled after a similar celebration at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is in its fifth year. Jan Stoffels is chairwoman of this year's event, and SunTrust Bank underwrote Baker's appearance.

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With so many organizations trying to raise money in the community, those who head auction committees can find it daunting to solicit goods and services that will bring in big bucks for good causes.

The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made an instant friend in Ginger Warder last year after rescuing Louise, a shepherd mix who then was 16.

Warder, who owns Dolphin Talent, which represents recording artists and does work for several record labels, suggested that the group get a celebrity spokesperson to promote its auction, scheduled for April 13 at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg.

She turned to Dennis Robbins, a North Carolina native and Nashville singer and musician who has written No. 1 hits for Garth Brooks (Two of a Kind), Highway 101 (Just Say Yes) and Shenandoah (Church on Cumberland Road).

Last week, Robbins came to the bay area to make TV and radio appearances promoting the benefit. He's collecting signatures on a handmade Vera Cruz guitar that already bears the autographs of George Jones, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Shenandoah and Brooks that will be offered at the sale, along with a leather tour jacket signed by Eric Clapton.

His wife, Helen, and sons Corey and Trevor accompanied him on the trip. Warder said Robbins will perform a short set at next month's fundraiser.

_ Mary Jane Park can be reached at (727) 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail; P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.