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home : news : news Tuesday, May 24, 2016

7/20/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Family time. Brenda Council and her granddaughter Ashley Council, 15, won a third-place ribbon for their eggplant at the outdoor container contest Wednesday, July 17, at the Clinton County Fair. Brenda said the plant provided a unique bonding experience for her and Ashley. Photo by Taylor Soule
Moment of truth. Displays await judging at the outdoor container contest Wednesday, July 17, at the Clinton County Fair. The Clinton County Master Gardeners sponsored the contest. Photo by Taylor Soule
Innovative displays rule outdoor container contest

By Taylor Soule
Correspondent

A then-8-year-old Jeanne Knape crept past her mother to her paradise, a patch of peas growing behind the garage. She devoured the hidden gems in each crisp pod, dropping the evidence.

"I said, 'Mom has X-ray vision. She can see through walls. How did she know I was there?'" Knape said with a laugh. "Of course, I left the pods."

Her hideaway led to a lifelong love of gardening. That love sent Knape and her husband, Ralph, to the Clinton County Fair Wednesday, July 17, for the outdoor container contest.

From Red Flyer wagons to sneakers, plants inhabited the unexpected, catching visitors' and judges' attention alike.

"I like unusual containers, and there are several that are really, really attractive," Knape said. "It would be hard for a judge to choose."

For Alma Gaul, who has judged plant containers for five years, naming a champion is slow and even tedious work, thanks to the high-caliber pieces submitted. Gaul returned to each display again and again Wednesday, tilting her head to examine the plants from a new angle.

The judges sometimes encircled a single plant, scribbling notes and whispering. Phrases like, "I've never judged a container like that before," and, "It has a spiller, filler and thriller" swirled through the sweltering air.

Gaul said a winning plant has three key elements: a spiller, a filler and a thriller. The spiller cascades over the container. The filler conceals the plant's soil. The thriller is plant-container lingo for the "wow factor." Thrillers tower above, their high plumes catching the judges' gaze.

Scribbles and whispers gave way to clicks at 1:40 p.m., as the judges shot photos of their favorite containers. In return, gardeners shot anxious glances at the judging tent, their improvised paper fans swishing faster and faster as the 2 p.m. awards presentation neared.

At 1:55 p.m., gardeners orbited the judging tent, taking a last glance at their lush masterpieces.

For Clinton County master gardener Jan Rittmer, the plant community is unique. Besides their trademark patience and eye for detail, gardeners share a wild side.

"It's always great fun," Rittmer said. "Plant people are always a little on the crazy side."

It's a side she's eager to share. The Clinton County Master Gardeners sponsored Wednesday's contest and held four public workshops on container gardening, herbs, barn quilts and raised-bed gardening.

"We always welcome new people," Rittmer said. "You don't have to know a lot about plants. You just have to have some interest."

Interest converged on the tent at 2 p.m. Wednesday, as gardeners gravitated to its whirring fans, welcome shade and the promise of plant-container fame.

At last, the judges revealed the ribbon-winners to claps from the crowd. Hollering over the drone of fans and goats' bleats, the judges raved over the "Best In Show" container, a tall, bright spectacle complete with a tubular, pink flower that puzzled even the judges.

While Ashley Council, 15, and her grandmother, Brenda Council, didn't win "Best In Show," the pair celebrated a third-place ribbon and a memorable bonding experience, thanks to their eggplant.

A ceramic rabbit sat in the container, guarding the plant's white, oblong jewels.

The duo watched, mesmerized, as the fledgling vegetables emerged. The Councils' wait lingers, though, as the vegetables have yet to turn their signature shade of purple.

Whatever the color, the Councils' beloved eggplant sits on Brenda's patio, basking in the sunlight, stares, compliments and questions.

"It's an interesting talk plant," Brenda said.


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