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Garden Guru: State Fair garden is a place of beauty and learning

By John Porter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I love a fair. I can't help it; it's just one of those things I love to do. I love interacting with all of the people, seeing all the sights and tasting all the treats. I love the opportunity my job gives me to go work at the State Fair of West Virginia every year.

And when I say I go to the fair, I go whole hog. There's no hotel living while I'm there; I join friends for a week of tent camping in the fair campground. You heard right -- a week of tent camping at the fair.

With all the rain this year, there were definitely a few challenges. Maybe that's why one of my guilty-pleasure movies is the 1945 classic movie musical "State Fair," which follows the hopes of the Frake family while they camp out at the Iowa State Fair with music written by Rodgers & Hammerstein.

With all the lights, the carnival and the things to see and to buy, it is easy to overlook the simpler, quieter things. One of my favorite places (of course) at the State Fair is the Extension Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.

It is a place of beauty, for sure, and a place of relative quiet, but it is also a place where people learn. It is a place where new plants and gardening techniques meet tradition and history, and where young folks can gain an appreciation for gardening while those who are more mature can reminisce. It is a place that embodies what a fair should be.

The garden is designed and maintained throughout the year by the Greenbrier Master Gardeners. They tend, prune, fertilize and care for the plants year-round to prepare them for their nine-day showcase in August. They create a fun children's garden and play area each year, with this year's theme based on a rainbow of colors.

The project started in 2002 and has been a favorite of fairgoers ever since. In the past few years, the garden has grown much larger. The site now includes a high tunnel, raised-bed vegetable gardens and even a grove of experimental American chestnut trees.

One of my favorite childhood movies growing up was the story of "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White. A favorite part was when Templeton the rat sang the "fair is a veritable smorgasbord (orgasbord, orgasbord)." Well, at the State Fair of West Virginia, the demonstration garden is a smorgasbord of color and beauty, reflection and calm, and new and old.

During the fair, Master Gardeners from around the state descend upon the garden to answer questions, direct visitors and man a booth in the nearby WVU Building. This is considered a statewide project of the West Virginia Extension Master Gardener Association and serves as a major outreach program of the association.

While it is too late to visit the fair and the garden this year, be sure that the demonstration garden is on your State Fair to-do list next year. And when you are there, be sure to stop by and say hello.

John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.porter@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.


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