Wednesday, October 14, 2009

NC State Fair - Flower and Garden Show

My husband and I have a particular route we follow when navigating the state fair. We head straightaway for the giant pumpkins, appropriately ogling their size and splendor before moving on to enviously scrutinize the honey collection. We give a quick hello to all the mama and young entourage animals (goats, horses, cows, pigs etc) and then we are off to the poultry tent. After finding the perfect thanksgiving turkey we head to our favorite spot, the
garden and flower show (of course!).

This year I was asked by Erv Evans, the new superintendent for the Flower and Garden Show (and good friend to youth and horticulture!), to do a display featuring the North Carolina 4-H Plant and Soils program. With a little paint and carpentry and a delightful selection of plants (Many thanks to Diane Mays, curator for the NC State conservatory), it is a start for what could be a nice little corner to showcase ideas for youth and gardening.

The NC State Fair offers many opportunities for youth to showcase their plant skills and knowledge. Youth have their own division in the flower show and can enter cut flowers, arrangements, terrariums, container plantings and even a craft or animal made from a natural product. The picture below was entered in the adult division, but caught my fancy as place to imagine all sorts of stories (faery galas and such) and I think our youth could come up with some similarly great ideas. Read all the specifics in the fair premium book (pg.53):

Another way for youth to be involved is to design and build a garden in the garden contest. The garden contest offers prospective competitors a 24' x 24' plot to create an amazing space according to a specific theme. A few of the themes for 2009 include; "Where the Wild Things Are," "Primary Colors," "Magical Children's Fairy Tale Garden," "Rooftop or Balcony Garden," and "World Heritage Vegetable Garden." All of these themes offer a chance to learn more about horticulture and enable youth to communicate their ideas to a large audience of fairgoers.

One of my favorite gardens for 2009 comes from the Wakefield High School FFA (Wake Forest, NC) students. Last year their garden won Best in Show for the entire garden contest. This year they included a diverse collection of plant material that emphasizes the wild nature of
Max's adventure. Some of the plants the students grew that you might like to try:
  • Paddle Plant (Kalanchoe thyrisflora)
  • Flying Dragon Tree (Poncirus trifoliata)
  • Joseph's Coat (Alternanthera)
  • Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium podophyllum 'Berry Allusion')
  • Iresine 'Blazing Lime'
  • Agave 'Variegated'
  • Holly Fern (Cyrtomium falcatum 'Rochfordianum')
The students painted the different character's from the storybook, incorporated quotes (my favorite: "Let the wild rumpus start!) and made Max's bed, complete with a "tree canopy." There are a lot of other great gardens from home gardeners, community college students, garden clubs and more.

If you cannot make it to the state fair consider starting a garden contest with your local 4-H community clubs. You might have a particular theme or focus on one aspect of horticulture. Many NC Cooperative Extension offices have a grassroots program called "Mini-Gardens" where youth grow their own vegetable gardens throughout the summer and are mentored by the horticulture and 4-H agent, and often Master Gardener volunteers. Youth learn all sorts of life skills from responsibility, record keeping, problem solving, critical thinking and communication. For more information contact me at or your local cooperative extension office.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Evening Primrose Parties

The legend of the evening primrose has haunted me for a long time. I had heard this plant's tale whispered with giddy delight and with a sense of some self-importance. The story of the evening primrose follows that just dusk as begins to settle, the flower buds unfurl into full bloom right before your eyes. I mean in 30-seconds-right-before-your-eyes-kind-of-time. For years, I had never been entitled to witness this event, until this summer.

The rain hadn't come in a long time and I was reaching peak annoyance at having dragged the hose from one end of the yard to the other. As I muttered and growled at the universe, the corner of my eye caught the movement of something yellow. It was the evening primrose beginning its nightly performance of blooming. The buds are all twisted up and start opening with a bit of a twitch and a hitch and then languidly stretch and unfold their pretty butter petals as you stand by and gape with a bit of awe and amazement.

My neighbor was watering across the street and I screamed at her to come over. She thought I found a snake and was very uninterested in what was happening in my part of the world. I hollered at my husband who was laboring in the backyard, watering all the vegetables. They both ended up coming over thinking something was wrong and I was too excited to be able articulate the little drama that was taking place. By the end of the week all the neighbors had been dragged over to watch and the kids were clamoring with questions.

'Tina James' Evening Primrose is a great cultivar to try in your garden. Here is a real-time video so that you may all share in the joy and wonder. Have an evening primrose watching party, it will be sure to delight.