Time-sensitive exhibits bloom at the Nobles County Fair as gardeners watch
The seasonality can also be a challenge, and helps explain why some years, fair-goers can see multiple exhibits featuring one type of flower and not see a single one of them the following year.
WORTHINGTON — While hundreds of people, young and old, plan for months about what animals, exhibits, arts and specimens to bring to the Nobles County Fair, one group of people is never quite sure what they’ll have until the day of the judging.
That’s not to say the dedicated gardeners who show their flowers, arrangements and plants are procrastinators, though — it’s just that what’s ready to be shown is highly dependent on the weather and the season.
“I’m watching through the summer. All of us are,” said Sandy Ahlberg, of Worthington, who earned a champion ribbon for a pink hydrangea bloom. “You look at the list (of flowers eligible for showing), you mark the ones ‘I think I can bring’ and look and see which ones are ready.”
Another complicating factor is that many of the plants require gardeners to bring three blooms or leaves that look the same.
“Sometimes you can find two, but you can’t find the third one,” Ahlberg explained. “You have to go out and look, and look at what you have.”
The seasonality can also be a challenge, and helps explain why some years, fair-goers can see multiple exhibits featuring one type of flower and not see a single one of them the following year. This year, Ahlberg said, no hibiscus were entered at the fair, whereas last year, a hibiscus earned a champion ribbon. At the same time, no one expected any peonies, given that they usually finish blooming in the spring, but somehow one exceptional peony plant — or a very determined gardener — managed to make it to the fair this year.
When a plant blooms isn’t really something a gardener can control, either. Ahlberg’s African violet was blooming all last week, but this week, it’s done.
That’s not to say that all the plants at the fair are last-minute picks. Ahlberg earned another champion ribbon with an enormous cactus in a bowl, which originated as a tiny cactus a friend brought her back when she was a teacher.
“I’ve had that 20 years,” she said, pointing out that all the little cacti in the bowl had sprung out of the larger central one.
Fairgoers who stroll by the plant exhibit might be left unimpressed by some of the faded or wilting blooms, but that just points to another variable for the gardeners — some flowers and plants do not hold up well in the exhibit hall, particularly after some time has passed.
Fortunately, many gardeners brought their plants in on Tuesday and they were judged that afternoon, when they were still fresh. Another factor was Tuesday’s excessive heat, which prompted an advisory from the National Weather Service and left a lot of people feeling just as wilted as one or two of the floral exhibits.
“I brought four specimens,” said Brenda Hurlbut, of Worthington, whose deep magenta coneflower earned a reserve championship.
Hurlbut noted that it’s also important to know how to display a specimen in the best possible way, choosing an appropriately-sized vase.
“It’s just pride, pride of ownership,” that prompts gardeners to bring their work to the fair, said Marchelle Jorgensen, of Worthington.
Jorgensen, Ahlberg and Hurlbut are all members of the Worthington Garden Club, which meets on a monthly basis at the Worthington Fire Hall. Anyone interested in joining should contact a Garden Club member or call Nancy Hofstee at (507) 370-2416.
The Worthington Garden Club, along with the Wilmont and Round Lake garden clubs, has a committee that works to set up the horticulture exhibit each year at the fair. This year, Ahlberg is the chairperson of the committee, having taken over for 14-year veteran Jean Bastian.
“The (Nobles County) Fair Board does a lot of work to get the buildings ready,” said Jan Lowe, another Garden Club member watching over the exhibit Thursday.
“It’s really impressive to see all the different kinds (of exhibits),” Hurlbut added.
Ahlberg has only been bringing exhibits to the fair for about five years, after she retired from teaching at Prairie Elementary.
Her favorite thing about the fair, though, is seeing other people.
"Working together, seeing what people have done and made. I like going through the 4-H (exhibit) and seeing what the 4-H kids have done," said Ahlberg, who also enjoys putting together the horticultural exhibits. "That was such fun, working together, putting it together and then seeing people... that's what I like, getting together."