One of the first stops for many of the thousands of fair goers who pour through the historic arch gates of the Stanislaus County Fair every night is the Floriculture Building. As its name implies, this is where anyone with a green thumb — from backyard gardeners to FFA students and even youngsters who like to play in the dirt — can put their landscape designs on display for the entire county to see.
It takes a lot of work to transform the barren building into a garden of paradise every summer, and local garden clubs are a big part of making that happen.
"We have quite a group of people gathered around and working," said Harold Whaley, who has been the director of the fair's Floriculture Department for the past 26 years. "It's good for the clubs...and for us, the fair, they do a wonderful job of beautifying the area."
For the past four years, the Turlock Garden Club has been in charge of designing, supplying plants and accessories and maintaining the waterfall and pond area of the Floriculture Building.
"We wanted to contribute to the fair," said Susan Smith of the Turlock Garden Club. "Ninety-five percent of the flowers were grown by our members."
The garden club starts preparing for the task in May with a potting party. They gather and distribute to their members the plant starters to repot and grow for the next couple of months.
"Then we come in and arrange them, and arrange them again, and once again... until it's just right," said Smith.
Garden club members then come out to the fairgrounds every day to water and check on the plants.
While one group of Turlock Garden Club members were busy growing the flowers for the pond display last spring, another group of members were working out the design for their competition garden.
The Turlock Garden Club members entered this year's Open Garden competition hoping to continue their history of success, having won first place last year for their "Alice in Wonderland" themed garden. The group stuck to their literary inspiration, which paid off as they took first place in their division and Best of Show for their "Tales of Peter Rabbit" themed garden this year.
The 10 feet by 20 feet outdoor garden display features a number of details from the classic Beatrix Potter story book. There's a hand-painted mural backdrop of Mr. McGregor working in his garden next to a faux farm house door complete with a pie cooling in the window. In the foreground, specific scenes from the book are portrayed using plant displays and props.
"We made sure to have the little things, like under the house there's a little door with a little mouse and she's holding a pea pod," said Noreen Porath. "If one child comes away and reads the book, we've accomplished something special."
The Turlock Garden Club members who helped with the competition garden started setting up their design on June 29, and then returned to work on it every day until July 8.
"Except for the Fourth of July because they wouldn't let us in," laughed Porath.
All of the garden club members think of their work at the fair as a labor of love. They are known for bringing a lot of laughter to the Floriculture Building.
"Everyone recognizes us because we bring coffee and goodies, we work hard and laugh a lot," said Peggy Hoyle.