Despite Southern Oregon's long, rainy periods and occasional cold snaps, palms grow nicely here and don't have to be taken inside for winter, a fact you'll get to appreciate at next weekend's 32nd annual Master Gardener Association Spring Fair.

Despite Southern Oregon's long, rainy periods and occasional cold snaps, palms grow nicely here and don't have to be taken inside for winter, a fact you'll get to appreciate at next weekend's 32nd annual Master Gardener Association Spring Fair.

Palms are naturally beautiful — and they're exotic reminders of leisurely times in the tropics — so it's natural to want a couple as aesthetic curbside statements or to accent your backyard hot tub or pool, says LeRoy Tomes, of Hooked On Palms in Medford.

Pointing out an attractive array of the common Windmill Fan Palm at his son's home in Medford's Oak Grove district, Tomes says the species can tolerate temperatures down to 5 degrees below zero and does well in the Rogue Valley's hardiness zone 7.

Tomes, who wholesales palm and banana plants, will be among scores of vendors at the Spring Fair, which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 8, at Expo in Central Point. Admission costs $3 for adults, and children get in free. Parking is free, too.

The Windmill Fan Palm is the palm best suited for this area and can grow a foot a year, getting as high as 50 feet, said Tomes.

To plant it, you'd dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and mix in sand and decomposed granite with soil, because palms need good drainage — no sitting in soggy soil.

They like water, especially in the first two years. In winter they may lose some color, he says, but will green up lushly in summer and become conversation pieces for guests and neighbors.

Almost as popular is the Blue Moroccan Bush Fan Palm, which sports pale-blue leaves and can handle cold down to 10 degrees. The Mediterranean Fan Palm — or "Med" — gets to 10 feet tall and likes the valley's climate. Ditto the Chilean Wine Palm, which can get to 50 feet.

These palms run about $20 to $35 for a five-gallon size and $100 to $150 for 15-gallon, depending on height. They can be viewed at www.hookedonpalms.com.

Western Oregon's relatively mild, ocean-moderated climate is also good for bananas, which "grow like weeds" here and hibernate in winter, seeming almost dead. Many species are seedy and not tasty, but some are yummy, Tomes says, and they burst forth with attractive, tropical leaves. They're hardy in winter but don't like cold that freezes the ground.

"The attraction of palms and bananas is that people love the tropics and the relaxed feel they bring — and these plants are evergreen and keep that feeling around us all year," says son Jeremy Tomes.

The men sell to many local nurseries and can be reached for direct sale at 541-941-3916.

The annual Spring Fair will showcase 150 vendors, along with many classes and helpful information, such as free well-water testing.

Floyd Williams of Ashland will be selling carnivorous plants.

Esther Woolley of Central Point will market her red wiggler worms, castings and worm juice.

Wolf Gulch Farm of Jacksonville, Abby Lane Farm of Gold Hill and many others will have veggie starts for sale.

Jackie Wilda of Talent will have her maintenance-free lawn furniture.

Among the many classes are garden design, gardening tools and landscaping.

The Master Gardener Plant Clinic will be there (for ailing plants you bring in), along with a children's booth, a book shack and a place to eat lunch and have a glass of vino from local wineries.

Fair coordinator Debra Osborne says that, while the fair is vast, if you spend two minutes with each vendor, it will only take five hours — and you'll still be able (even if you have to go both days) to attend several of the free classes, making it "the gardening bargain of the year."

Although starts and plants are flying off shelves, don't worry, she says, because vendors have lots more where those came from. And don't fret, she says, about buying too much. The 4H people have a holding area for you to stack your purchases, and they will carry it all to your vehicle (don't forget to tip).

Spring Fair, she says, "signals the beginning of the summer gardening season in the Rogue Valley."

For more information, call 541-776-7371 or see http://extension.oregonstate.edu/sorec/gardening/mga.

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