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Turlock Garden Club puts their green thumbs to work at the fair
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The Turlock Garden Club designed a recreation of the Turlock Melon Carnival, complete with a Melon Queen, a replica carousel, and plenty of melons and flowers for the Stanislaus County Fairs open garden competition. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal

The Turlock Garden Club is taking the community back to the roots of the area’s festivals by recreating the Turlock Melon Carnival in the open garden competition at the Stanislaus County Fair.

Additionally, the Turlock Garden Club has once again decorated and landscaped the front area of the waterfall pond in the Floriculture building at the fairgrounds.

These are not projects that come to fruition overnight or even in a few weeks. The two committees responsible for the gardens start their preliminary designs for the competition and the pond area as the first buds of spring begin to show. The work ratchets up around the final week of June and comes to completion just in time for the gates to open to the first fair-goers.

“Around March we start brainstorming some ideas and it just grows from there,” said Noreen Porath of the Turlock Garden Club.

The landscaping in front of the waterfall pond is created by about 10 members of the club and is donated to the fair. This year’s main designers were Lynda DeGraff and Carol Jensen and they wanted to highlight the simple beauty of flora, so they designed a begonia garden that is accented with a picket fence and birch tree pieces.

“We start out thinking it will be one way and then others come in and give their two cents and we change it, then change it again and again,” DeGraff said. “Eventually, it all comes together and makes for a place for everyone to enjoy.”

This year’s open garden competition gave the budding garden designers a theme of the “Good Old Days” and in the minds of the dozen or so Turlock Garden Club members working on the project, nothing said Good Old Days like the Turlock Melon Carnival.

“They couldn’t have picked a better idea,” said Joyce Davis, a supervisor for the junior division of the floriculture competitions. “It’s such an important part of the fair’s history and so many Turlock families.”

Turlock was once known as the “Watermelon Capital of the World” because of the region’s prime conditions for growing melons. The designation was officially celebrated in 1911 with the first Turlock Melon Carnival and included activities like melon rolling contests and a crowning of a Melon Queen. The event was a regular festival for a few years until it was halted because of World War I. It returned in 1926 and eventually became the Stanislaus County Fair.

The design in the display by the Turlock Garden Club includes a hand-painted background, fair booths, a homemade replica carousel, a melon queen, flowers of varying styles and of course, melons.

“They are here the first day we let people start coming in and eventually all their work erupts into something magnificent,” Davis said.

The Turlock Garden Club was awarded first place this year for their efforts.