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No Fair like the State Fair

No Fair like the State Fair

Anne Jaeger

The kids head for the rides.  I go for the flowers. On the way out, we both make a bee line for piping hot sugary elephant ears. Yeah, that’s my idea of a perfect day at the Oregon State Fair. While they’re on the “E” rides for excitement, I’m over at “The Hart of the Garden” the last week of August enjoying the sunshine, the flowers and the new people I meet at the garden seminars.

At my age, who cares about the rides? I want to see how the new plants performed in “our” climate, instead of some experts’ garden.  The state fair is a great trial by fire for plants. And by the end of the season, you can tell what’s worth planting this fall and what’s not. I often carry a pen and paper to jot down varieties I want to try. There’s an acre of plants out there right in front of the old school house (adjacent to 17th.) As soon as the fair is done, I’m back planting again.  And here’s why: Fall is the best time for planting. The weather is mild and Mother Nature takes care of the watering for us. Yippy! Shrubs, trees and perennials have 7 more months to put all their efforts into growing roots instead of flowers or leaves. You know what that means: Bigger, healthier, plants and flowers next spring. No worries, you can plant the same stuff in spring, but they won’t have the head start that fall plantings provide.

And for the first time that I can recall, a wholesale grower is going to let us (the customer) decide what we want to see on the garden stores next year. Usually, growers try to anticipate what “we” want. At the state fair (August 26th-September 5th) Oregon’s largest greenhouse grower (Harts Nursery) will hand out “Voting” forms giving us the opportunity to tell them which hanging basket plants we like best! That’s what we will see those plants on the shelves at Your New Garden Store, Walmart and RiteAid. So that’s kinda fun, don’t you think?

There are a couple of other garden sights I don’t like to miss at the fair. The “Tomato Test Trials” top the list. Every year Harts Nursery plants old favorite’s right next to the new varieties. I must not be the only one who enjoys watching the tomatoes grow… because there’s always a worn out cattle trail path around those tomatoes. You see, some people must be from the “show me state” fair, because they can not believe newer tomato varieties developed in Oregon would grow better in Oregon. Oregon State University has done some amazing tomato research and created some juicy, juicy disease resistant varieties. But some people would rather fight than switch. It never fails that at least once during the fair I see an old man, thumbs tucked into his overalls, eyeing the tomatoes and making that cattle trail a little wider. In my experience these types aren’t big talkers, but they do like big tomatoes. Being a glutton for punishment, I strike up a conversation anyway. (I’ve learned these people have gardening advice that threatens to change the free world “If someone would only listen.”) I try.

Best as I can recollect, the discourse always begins about the same. I ask “What do you think of that new tomato?” Which usually brings on the kind of snort a bull exhales just before charging a red matadors cape. I press on anyway, dangling the tomato before his nose “Amazing how much bigger the new variety is.” This usually elicits a tired, worn look at me over one shoulder and the reply is just as worn; “I’ll tell you nothing is as tasty as the (insert old variety name here.) I’ve grown them since the family moved out from Oklahoma, never tasted anything sweeter.” That is when I go in for the kill. Take out my pocket knife and slice the two tomatoes open right then and there “Here, taste ‘um.”

I don’t understand quite why, but after two bites, the conversation usually ends completely.  I suspect I may have proved my point but lost a new friend in the process. So, as you can tell, the tomato trials are a pretty feisty, spicy affair! Who would have thought?