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All I could think about was how defenseless—even pathetic—the flowers looked in their little bud vases. As I walked among them, they presented a bewildering array of colors and shapes—spheres, spikes, sprays, buds, gnarly tangles, full blooms. And then there were mixed containers of herbs and even a few “miniature” displays (sans the f word).

Welcome to the Erie County Fair Creative Arts and Flower Show, Horticulture Division. I was there to give a special award named after the magazine I edit. Although the competition is divided into flower divisions (6 classes for dahlias, 12 for marigolds, 7 for petunias, and so on), my award would be an overall ribbon covering everything in the room. It was bewildering, and there was no time, because I only had an hour or so to do this and then judge twenty-some other categories, including afghans, needlepoint, photography, Legos, and the ominous “Bucket of Junk.”

It was simple—for me—to eliminate certain divisions, however unfairly. Celosias? Hate ’em. Ugh. I can’t decide which are worse—the fleshy looking convoluted ones, or the stubby flame-shaped ones, not to mention the garish colors. Gerberas always seem commercial and impersonal. The only roses they had were hybrid tea, not my faves, and in other areas, I couldn’t imagine how a winner within the division would be chosen—all the phlox looked pretty much the same—not to mention choosing the best French marigold, “single, one spray.” Luckily I had only to choose one winner in this impossibly diverse array—a completely arbitrary process and therefore not so difficult. I ended up picking a sweet little dahlia (small decorative).

The whole thing was surreally and sublimely old-school, with its celebration of the type of old-fashioned annuals many gardeners don’t trouble with these days. It was a time capsule, but in many ways a charming one, alive with color and scent. Does your fair have shows like this? Do you enter them?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on August 12, 2014 at 9:52 am, in the category Everybody’s a Critic, It’s the Plants, Darling.

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  • My fair used to have these. Now we no longer have a fair. I would enter, and I would have my children do crafts all summer preparing. It was a lot of fun for them to show their creations, and get a ribbon. They would spend some time in the garden picking their favourite flowers for showing.

    Lisa - Ontario 1st January 1970 4:00 am
  • Our fair is a very big deal–I think it is one of the largest in the country and there is a gigantic agricultural component. But I hated that I had to judge the canning division by how it looked!

    Elizabeth Licata 25th March 1978 5:57 pm
  • We still have a fair- the 4h fair and it does bring the community together. The Master Gardener Volunteers judge Floriculture every year and sometimes it’s a chore with few entries. This year was great w many remarkable entries. We hope our 4H fair stays around but you can see the financial pressures are wearing it down. It is such a great learning experience for the kids…and us MGV’s!

    Linda B-Sanilac Co MI 3rd March 1979 10:00 pm

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