Seeds of Imagination

Annual gardeners showcase brings out those who know a thing or three about plants
Esther Woolley, who describes herself as a worm farmer, grabs a handful of worm castings at her booth Saturday at the Master Gardener Spring Fair. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

CENTRAL POINT — You won't be able to toss a tomato today in the Compton Arena at The Expo without winging a gung-ho gardener.

Thousands of green-thumb folks from throughout the region are sprouting up at the facility this weekend for the Jackson County Master Gardener Association's popular, two-day Spring Fair.

If you go

What: 34th annual Jackson County Master Gardener Spring Fair

Where: The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 5

Cost: $3, with children 15 and younger allowed in for free

They were as thick as carrots Saturday as they checked out the more than 150 booths — many of them chock full of vegetables, flowers, trees and cacti. The Master Gardeners group alone was offering more than 6,000 plants. Plus, there were birdhouses and peacock-feather jewelry, even attire for the fashion-conscious gardener.

The fair resumes today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3, with children 15 and younger allowed in for free.

"When I start my day, it is so wonderful to get up and go out to the garden to see what has changed from the day before," observes Applegate Valley resident Alana Starkweather, who, along with husband Craig Faulkner, was checking out this year's crop of vegetables.

"I love to see what flowers are opening, what is ready to pick, what needs watering," adds the Master Gardener. "I'm in total happiness when I'm out there."

Gardening keeps you young, her husband will tell you.

"I keep him very busy — he's my 'go-to man,' " she says, before they move on to the next booth.

Central Point-area resident Jane Moyer, 69, a Master Gardener, also lives to garden.

"I don't remember a time when I didn't garden," Moyer says. "My grandparents had a couple of acres near Seattle. We went to their place every weekend. My parents helped, and we kids helped. I loved it."

As a retiree, her appreciation for growing plants hasn't changed a whit.

"Gardening gets me outside," she says. "It's calm and peaceful but good exercise at the same time. We have an ongoing joke that gardening is not for wimps.

"And I like knowing where my food comes from and what is put on it," she adds. "It also saves money."

But the savings does usually come after the first year, she hastens to add.

"The first year you may have $75 tomatoes," she says, tongue firmly held in cheek.

Like any gardener worth her weight in spuds, Moyer already has her cold crops in — snow peas, radishes, lettuce, chard and onions.

"But I have a car full of plants out there," she admits of plants bought at the fair. "I got all my tomatoes. I got artichokes, eggplants and peppers. And lots of flowers, both perennials and annuals."

But don't put your tomato plants in until the soil is about 70 degrees, she cautions.

"They are a tropical plant," she says. "They don't like cold soil. They just sit there and get stubborn."

That includes the Medford tomato, a plant bred by the local Oregon State University Extension Office, she says.

Many of the fair attendees spoke out for the local Oregon State University Extension Service, which could become a victim of budget cuts. Countless thousands of people turn to the extension service for advice and assistance, Starkweather observes.

"It is very needed," she says. "I can't imagine what we would do without it."

But mostly they were there to check out the latest plants. There were plants to attract butterflies and plants to draw hummingbirds. There were even plants that, well, are killers.

That would be the carnivorous plants, such as the purple pitcher plants — sarracenia purpurea — offered by vendor Floyd Williams, 66, of Ashland, owner of Southern Oregon Carnivorous Plants.

He refers to them as a nature's aid to pest control.

"These are all native to the United States and southern Canada — all southern temperate plants," he says. "They are all carnivores. They predate on things like yellow jackets, hornets, fruit flies, ants, earwigs."

Each plant has a trumpet that contains a liquid that both attracts and kills insects.

"After an animal falls down in the trumpets, there are little hairs that are agitated, causing digestive enzymes to flow into the pool," he explains.

He raises his plants inside a greenhouse but says the plants can withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

A certified organic gardener, he began growing the carnivorous plants as a hobby.

"They took over my life," he admits.

Central Point resident Esther Woolley describes herself as a farmer, not a gardener.

"I'm a worm farmer," says the owner of the Underground Worm Connection. "We raise red wiggler worms."

Her booth was offering the worms, their castings and worm juice.

She points to an 11-pound bag of rich, brown material that she sells as a soil additive.

"This was horse manure, lawn trimmings and produce three months ago," she says. "The worms have rocks in their gizzards. They eat the compost matter. They grind it and regurgitate it."

In addition to worm castings to improve soil, she offers the worm juice, which looks like strong tea.

"I call the worm juice plant food for dummies — plants love it," she says. "But this is old school. All the old-timers know about red wigglers."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.



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