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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 01:58 am

Fair flowers

Color everywhere — up and down and in the ground

The Master Gardeners demonstration garden outside the Jr. Activities building on Eighth Street at the fairgrounds.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE
Among the tents, livestock buildings, corndog and lemonade stands at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, fairgoers can see a wide variety of colorful plants.

Just inside gate 2, visitors are greeted by chartreuse colored sweet potato vines, ice-cream (orange) salvia, banana plants, red flowering bougainvillea, dark opal basil, cotton candy lantana and orange marigolds. These are only some of the 112 different flowers scattered throughout the fairgrounds. The number of planting areas is reduced this year due to a rainy June and the need to replant 40 beds, plus reduced staff and decreased funding. Despite adversity, there are still flower beds tucked around every corner — 170 in all.

And that’s not all. Look up high and see one of the 160 hanging baskets, some of which contain trailing pink and purple petunias and black sweet potato vines. Marching along the avenues are 65 concrete planters, some bursting with tall red cannas. An additional 100 planters can be found throughout the fairgrounds.

Approximately eight inmates from the Logan Correctional Center care for the beautiful display. Three correctional officers implement the designs of the flowerbeds and supervise the inmates while overseeing the day-to-day maintenance of the plantings.

Illinois Department of Agriculture purchases the seed for this project. In March inmates at the Lincoln Correctional Center and Logan Correctional Center started the 130,000 flowers from seeds. Additional plants were supplied by the Big Muddy River Correctional Center at Rend Lake, and donated by Apple Barn.

If you need help identifying one of the flowers that you have spotted on the fairgrounds, come and see a Master Gardener. Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit will be in their demonstration gardens, located in front of the Building #30, the Jr. Activities building, along Eighth Street.

The demonstration gardens are a project developed by the Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Started in 1998, the first Master Gardener demonstration gardens featured only a small herb and annual garden. In 2002, the Master Gardeners expanded their project with each of three gardens developed and maintained by a committee of Master Gardeners: identification garden for the state fair flowers, herb garden, and The Lorraine Desouza Perennial Garden. Since then, three more demonstration areas have been added: five turfgrass plots, a native plant area and five compost bins. The garden now covers 5,000 square feet.

The identification garden showcases many of the colorful flowering plants displayed on the fairgrounds. The herb garden has more than 60 herbs used in cooking. Plantings include eight different kinds of basil and six different kinds of sage.

The Lorraine DeSouza Perennial Garden contains perennial plants of interest for every season. Peak blooms in mid-August will be knockout roses, Russian sage, red hardy hibiscus and pink Japanese Anemone. This garden was dedicated in September 2001 in memory of longtime Master Gardener Lorraine DeSouza.

The prairie demonstration area contains more than 20 different native plants, including purple prairie clover, prairie dropseed, a seven-foot-tall cup plant and an eight-foot-tall sawtooth sunflower plant.

The public is welcome anytime to tour these demonstration gardens. Plants are labeled. During the Illinois State Fair, Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., August 14-23. Programs will be given daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Also, don’t miss the plantings around the Commodities Pavilion and Conservation World. The 30-acre Conservation World includes extensive tree plantings, some of which are historic trees, and native planting areas.

Contact Jennifer Fishburn at fishburn@illinois.edu.
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