Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lessons Learned at the West End Fair

Nasturtium, 'Empress of India' -- Best of Show

It's the first day of September -- next stop fall! The weather doesn't seem to know it on this hot and humid day, although the maples already begin to shed golden leaves on the front lawn, and with the end of the West End Fair, children are back to school. It was a great gardening season exemplified by wonderful flower, herb, fruit and vegetable exhibits at the Fair. There I learned a lot this year. I learned to trust Mother Nature: having spent an inordinate amount of time fussing with fresh flower arrangements for my floor and shelf displays (that took second place ribbons) my simple, three-stem exhibit of nasturtium earned Best of Show -- the first time I won this prestigious award!

I grow nasturtium every year to aid pollination in the kitchen garden. 'Empress of India' has a pleasant mounding shape, bright scarlet blossoms, and blue green water-lily like leaves. This is one of the varieties of nasturtium bred so the flowers stand above the foliage. Both flower and leaves are edible with a peppery flavor and I use them to decorate plates of tea sandwiches and add them to salads. This old-fashioned flower fits right into my cottage garden.

I direct sow the seeds after the last frost. To aid germination, seeds should be rubbed with a nail file. This year I completely forgot to scarify them, not remembering until seeds were in the ground. I doubted they would germinate; thank goodness they did -- I really must learn to trust Mother Nature! Following directions in the Fair's Premium Book, my grandson (my gardening helper) and I chose just three stems. We picked branching ones with more than one bloom on each and I displayed them in a plain glass jar as required. I entered them in the Herbs section. I also entered peach colored ones in the Annual Flowers section and they earned a third place ribbon.  I didn't seem to do so well in that section this year, but my herbs more than made up for it...

Proud grandson with winning entry, Nasturtium, 'Empress of India'

For the floor display, 'Tea Time,' we created an Olde English Tea Room, complete with English menu. With the teapot and other china patterned in yellow and orange, I chose perennial sunflowers, orange zinnias, and marigolds. I was happy with the second place when I saw the entry that won the blue ribbon -- it was outstanding. Very stiff competition this year!

Tea Time

Tea Room Menu.

Jon was very proud of Humpty Dumpty and all his King's horses and men in the Nursery Rhymes section. After he arranged them, I added a bouquet of perennial geranium, yarrow 'The Pearl,' and spikes of Anise Hysopp. Another second place.

I write a monthly 'Gardening in the Poconos' article for the local newspaper, and my August topic was 'How to Exhibit at the West End Fair.' I should have said 'do as I say, not as I do' as I didn't follow my own advice, being somewhat disorganized this year. Jon arrived two days before the fair to help me get ready, but instead of immediately preparing the jars as we usually do, I decided we should pickle and can beets because I wasn't ready with that entry. Canning took the whole day and led to a stressful rush to get everything else to the fair on time. But it paid off when the beets took the blue ribbon!

Jon should take much of the credit as he picked and washed the beets, and after I cooked them he slipped the skins off. While I sliced, he mixed the vinegar recipe. We make a great team!

Burpee's Organic Beet, 'Detroit Dark Red'

Other blue ribbon winners were my lambs ear, Russian Sage, and turtle head.

Lambs ears in the foreground, perennial geranium above.
Lambs ear Stachys is a favorite with children.
Russian sage Perovskia atriplicifolia
Russian sage is a favorite with bees.

For the first time since I have been exhibiting at the fair, the turtle head was in bloom. Always the star of the shade garden in fall, I was excited to enter it. It took a blue ribbon!

Turtle head Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'
Prince Turtle and the flower named for him.

Some of my plants, such as blue mist shrub and pink phlox, are not listed for entry at the fair. I plan on writing a letter to the fair committee asking for these flowers to be added.

Blue mist shrub Caryopteris and Phlox paniculata' Bright eyes.'
'Bright Eyes'
Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;
they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.
-- Luther Burbank

I learned much at the fair this year. The judges sometimes leave a comment on the plant's ticket and this can be very helpful: I saw that one plant had 'stems too long for vase,' another's 'leaves drooped,' and one flower had a 'bent stem.' As well as starting to prepare earlier (not canning the day before,) I learned that I still have a lot to learn -- one reason I love gardening!

I am linking with Beth at Plant Postings and her Lessons Learned meme and with  Helen at The Patient Gardener's Weblog for her End of Month View. Also, with so much to celebrate (ten blue ribbons including Best of Show) I am linking with Donna at Gardens Eye View and her Seasonal Celebrations meme. Please visit these excellent blogs.

Still some summer days left and the glories of autumn to look forward to. Enjoy!

Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.


  1. Congrats on your win, Pam. I do like your sunflowers, orange zinnias, and marigolds entry too.

  2. Congratulations, Pam! You had a lot of wins - quality and hard work! I'm happy for you.

  3. Congratulations for all of your ribbons! What a cute helper you have! Something ate my turtlehead this year! It's not a complete loss, but I won't have as many blooms as usual. It does seem odd that the fair doesn't have a phlox category, since that is a fairly common flower! Finally, I would certainly eat at your charming tea table! Scones, yummm . . .!

    1. Thanks, Kimberley. They have white and red phlox on the list, but no pink. I'd like to remedy that.

  4. Best of Show, what an honor! I've never been overly impressed with nasturtiums, they take too long to bloom, flop everywhere. Perhaps I just picked the wrong varieties?

  5. Congratulation! You really deserve to get that awards. Your sage patch makes me so jealous, i have sow sage seeds for several times, but never success.

  6. Congratulations Pam, you won so many ribbons. I love nasturtiums but don´t sow them every year, I´m however never without because I always find some self sown plants. Your grandson will be a good gardener, he looks not only proud but very serious, love it.

  7. Many congratulations to you and Jon too, brilliant results. Your Empress of India is beautiful, but I've never heard of having to rub the seeds with a nail file, I made the mistake of letting my nasturtium set seed one year and I couldn't get rid of them for years afterwards, they were popping up all over the place. I learnt my lesson though. It's wonderful to see the younger generation taking an interest in gardening, I had high hopes for my two but they don't seem interested at the moment, perhaps they'll come to it at some time in the future.

  8. Congratulations, how exciting and rewarding!
    Love lamb's ears and have planted a row of little ones.

  9. Congratulations to all of you. Great displays. I love nasturtiums but they are such a magnet for the black aphids that it ruins them every time. I spray them off with the hose but a day later they are again thick with them. Do you have that problem?

    1. No aphids on mine, Lori. Have you tried spraying with horticultural soap?

  10. Congrats ! You're so talented. Visiting you was a pleasure as usual.

  11. Great job, and it sure helps having such good help!
    I can only imagine that the competition looked like, your tea table looks like a blue ribbon to me!

  12. Congratulations! You received some well-deserved kudos! How wonderful to have a grandson as a teammate and helper. That would be great fun! These lessons are helpful for those of us who contemplate entering contests. Thanks for joining in the memes!

  13. Many congratulations to you! Nasturtium always end up as a sacrificial crop here - I plant the beauties to sidetrack caterpillars. Empress of India is lovely.
    Strangely enough, I spent last Saturday stewarding jams at a produce show. I had to write down the judges comments, mark the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed jars and look after the jams, chutneys and pickles judge! It was an eye-opener - I had no idea jam could be judged so stringently!

  14. Well done to you and your grandson Pam. 'Empress of India' one which we often grew in Aberdeen.

  15. Sorry I am so late in responding Pam....I wanted to take my time and savor this year's fair. Maybe one year I can get down for your fair, meet you see your exhibits and garden....it's a dream that is doable. Thanks as always for supporting Seasonal Celebrations especially in autumn as many gardeners are not in the mind to celebrate the coming of fall as that means the garden is ending.

    And congrats to you and your grandson....many awards and a best in show...so richly deserved my friend.

  16. Just beautiful and congratulations!! My mum belongs to an arrangers club in our town and she invited me to a few of the competitions this year. It was lovely to see all those beautiful flowers. I am visiting from the seasonal celebration.