at the county fair

Are gardeners terrorists? You’d think so looking at the sign posted outside the San Diego County Fair.

This gardener took advantage of the “Furlough Friday” deal for state employees (free admission!) and checked out the offerings of the fair for the first time in half a decade. I guess the rationale of free admission was to get more people in the gate to partake of the rides and stunt food–you know, the bizarre offerings that often involve impaling something on a stick, sticking it in batter, and then deep-frying it. I searched all over for the worst of the worst stunt food but the best (worst?) I could find was a stand offering “fried Twinkie lattes”–really nothing more weird than a vanilla latte–and this trailer selling chocolate covered bacon. Neither dish really seemed to be deep fried, so I guess they’re getting with the health-conscious kick…

My main destination was the outdoor garden displays, where the main point of each display seemed to be either attracting new customers to the landscape firms there or–in the case of the non-profit institutions and garden clubs–education. The fair’s never been about landscape design as a high art, but there’s always interesting stuff there.

If there was theme to the displays this year, “edibles” seemed to be the word, keeping up the health-conscious theme of the not-deep-fried chocolate-covered bacon. This display by the San Diego Botanic Garden in Cooperation with the San Diego Water Authority won the prize for the best edible landscape. The display also won an award for the exhibit that arranged plants in a way that demonstrated “good taste.”

It featured food crops and ornamentals of all sorts as long as they fit into the purple-pink-green-silver palette, and demonstrated that a garden with veggies could be as pulled together as any other garden. In its combination of cool-weather crops (such as purple cabbage) with warm-weather ones (like basil and squash) it was also a reminder that this is a garden show than a real-world garden.

San Diego Botanic Garden display: A fence row planted with ornamentals, kale and squash.

Here are a few more photos of displays that played with the edibles theme:

Artichokes and olive trees in a space designed by Lane McClelland and Laurie Roberts.

Ornamentals and veggies hanging in burlap, also in the McClelland-Roberts garden.

Grow what you love--the entrance to the same McClelland-Roberts garden, featuring corn, chard, chives and other edibles.
Wendy Slijk's display showed off this hanging pot with squash.

Home Depot's entry featured a little grape vineyard.

A scarecrow guarding veggie beds in a display by the San Diego Horticultural Society.

In addition to edibles, drinkables got to play a role, as in this display of Agave tequilana by the Palomar Cactus and Succulent Society. This might not be one of the great landscape agaves, but how can you fault a plant that is the source of tequila?

Erigeron glaucus cv. Bountiful at the Tree of Life Nursery display.

I kept my eye out for uses of native plants, but there were almost none. Part of that is probably because the majority of the charismatic flowering natives do their thing at the end of winter or during spring. The one main exception was a small display by native plant specialist Tree of Life Nursery.

Brittons chalk dudleya and red monkeyflower in the Tree of Life Nursery's display.

Inside, in the adjacent exhibits building, there was a flower show going on, with roses and dahlias and gladiolus and lots of cubbies with flower arrangements. And that’s where I saw a few more natives, where they had a category for cut native flowers. So there was more monkeyflower here, along with one of the bush poppies (Dendromecon) and some matilija poppies.

Really, who doesn’t love these matilijas? The last photo is of one of them. Next post I’ll share some other sightings.

8 thoughts on “at the county fair”

  1. wow, really cool! funny sign. yum – county fair food sounds great! I would imagine the fried twinkie latte would be really good. I have the java chip frappucinos (with bits of brownie or chocolate) – it would be similar I bet. And chocolate covered bacon??! YUM! I’ve bought ridiculously expensive bars of this at gourmet stores before. hurray for the county fair!

  2. Well I hope after nearly 25 years you had a great time at the fair. I love county fairs for the ag exhibitions and just the whole atmosphere of it. Not that I go that often though. You are right about the gardens being show. I hate it when they are so unrealistic but they do still look good. Funny on the no garden tools allowed. Nice catch! Maybe the administrator think someone may help themselves to the veggies?

  3. The county fair is the only time of the year where I do not feel bad eat all the chocolate bacon I can carry. But without my garden tools, I am not certain how I would fend off the crowds from stealing my stash of it. Love the post! Matti

  4. It’s a relief to know that the healthy food movement has made it to the fairs and that the chocolate-covered bacon is not deep fried. It’s also reassuring to know that people can attend the fair without fear of anyone committing mayhem with a trowel! LOL

  5. I’d like to someday win an award for arranging plants in a way that shows good taste. What does it say that I haven’t yet? I like the county fair. Always full of interesting things to see.

  6. Sounds like a well planned event – you can chow down on some chocolate covered bacon, then snip a little mint from the edible garden to freshen your breath, and no one’s the wiser!

    I also have not been to a county fair in years and was thinking of going to the Alameda county fair this weekend. Had not realized there might be garden displays; thanks for the tip.

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