Spring Fair is here

Master Gardener fair is a popular, one-stop event for dirt lovers
Tomboy Tools have pink handles, kits and boxes.Bob Pennell

The 31st annual Master Gardener Spring Fair — the primo place to buy plants and get ideas for this year's garden — will feature some new twists, including garden tools designed for women's hands and physiques, as well as lawn furniture that's virtually indestructible.

The popular event is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 2, at Jackson County Expo in Central Point.

Schedule of Master Gardener Spring Fair classes

Saturday, May 1

10:30 a.m.: Stan Mapolski's Garden Notes

11:30 a.m.: Worms and Vermiculture

12:30 p.m.: Growing Tomatoes in the Rogue Valley

1:30 p.m.: Care and Feeding of Wells and Septic Systems

2:30 p.m.: Seed Starting

3:30 p.m.: What's in That Bag of Dirt?

Sunday, May 2

10:30 a.m.: Deer-Resistant Plantings

11:30 a.m.: Succulents Inside and Out

12:30 p.m.: Beneficial Bugs in the Garden

1:30 p.m.: Preserving Herbs

2:30 p.m.: Gardening on a Budget

The Spring Fair offers free well-water testing, the Master Gardener Association's new book on gardening in the Rogue Valley and free help for plant identification, bug problems and soil concerns.

The fair is a popular, one-stop event for buying plants, starts and seeds for the coming year, along with learning from some of the area's most astute growers. It also features wines from several area wineries.

The female-friendly hardware, called Tomboy Tools, is sold by Carrie Strand of Central Point (carrie@toolsfortomboys.com or 541-821-8223), who is one of numerous vendors selling useful products and services at the Spring Fair.

Strand promises her tools fit a woman's hand and are lighter weight, making them easier to lift and manipulate. Plus, they come in one color — pink — about the only color, she says, that your husband or significant other wouldn't think of stealing.

"I always wanted my own box of tools — and they're really comfortable to use," says Strand, demonstrating how ergonomic pruning shears cut straight ahead of her hand, without forcing it to bend, which can stress tendons and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Tomboy Tools come in sets for plumbing, electrical, gardening, sheetrock, fixing cars — and fit in cool pink toolboxes or ones that change into stools you can stand on.

Having the tools is one thing; knowing how to use them is an entirely different story, and Strand, one of five local consultants for the Denver-based company, gives "project parties" (think Tupperware parties) where a group of women tackle a stubborn drain or electrical problem, get it done, learn how it's done and, she says, find they love the new sense of confidence and skill.

"It's such a sense of accomplishment that we get," says Tedde Ridley of Central Point. "It's wonderful. Instead of the honey-do list, you use your husband for other things, like taking you out to dinner."

During a single-mom period, Strand says she built a fence and deck and landscaped her yard. "I felt so absolutely empowered. I'd felt I couldn't do it but I made up my mind to do it."

The Tomboy Tools are comparably priced with normal tools. A caulking kit with gun, utility knife and razor scraper is $27. A tool apron with magnetic, nail-holding hammer, pliers, tape measure, multi-bit screwdriver, rubber grip gloves and carpenter's pencil is $55. The stepper-bench that doubles as a toolbox is crammed with useful tools, including hack saw, long-nose pliers, picture-hanging set, knee pads and torpedo level for $115. A pink, battery-powered impact drill (much lighter) is $80. The canvas car kit, including pink jumper cables, flashlight, tire gauge, reflecting tape and extendable screwdriver, is $80.

"All you need is tools that work and a little bit of knowledge," says Strand.

Another Spring Fair vendor looking to improve your life will be Master Gardener Jackie Wilda of Talent. We're all tired of lawn furniture that fades, cracks, falls apart, even blows away in the wind, she says. Wilda will be on hand to save the day with By The Yard furniture, which is made from recycled plastic milk and water bottles and is guaranteed for 35 years.

Styled with a smart and simple Midwest taste, the Minnesota-based manufacturer has created a sturdy array of tables, chairs, gliders, lounge chairs, Adirondack chairs, bar-height furniture, planters, porch swings and rockers that not only won't fade, crack or blow away, but they'll help the planet, too.

Wilda, a Minnesota native, said "I couldn't find anything I liked and I fell in love with it and thought it would fly in Oregon. They didn't think our climate was severe enough but I finally convinced them it was, and now I'm the only distributor of it on the West Coast."

The furniture seating is all extra-wide to accommodate big people, she notes, and is comfortable, with a little "give." It's priced up there with fine furniture — $800 for a glider chair tete-a-tete and $2,000 for a large table and four chairs, according to its Web site, www.bytheyard.net.

The colors are all subtle earth-tones — white, brown, green, gray, weathered wood, redwood, black, coffee and sandstone.

"A nice thing about it is you can buy a piece at a time, and when you add something a few years later, it's going to be the same color as the first one," said Wilda, who works with her partner, Julie Gjovik. Their Web site is www.bytheyardoregon.com. They are reachable at 541-601-5554 and btyoregon@hotmail.com

Other vendors signed up for the show include landscapers, waterscapers, farms and many others, making it the largest gardening event between Portland and San Francisco.

The cost to attend is $3, with children under 12 free.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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