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AT STATE FAIR: Discovery Gardens in full bloom

By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

Betty Lemke looks over the part of Discovery Garden she oversees each year at the Iowa State Fair.

By KRISS NELSON/Farm News staff writer

DES MOINES – “State Fair Time” is the theme for the 2009 Iowa State Fair that will continue to run throughout the weekend ending on Sunday.

The theme symbolizes that time of year when many Iowans make their annual trek to Des Moines for the state’s largest single tourism event.

If flowers, butterflies and the occasional bee are something of interest than touring the Discovery Garden which is located directly outside of the John Deere Agriculture Building should be at the top of your to-do list at the fair.

Betty Lemke, of Grimes, and a Polk County Master Gardener, has her own garden to which she attends at Discovery Garden. She also volunteers her time at the fair being on hand to answer questions concerning the various species of flowers. She helps children explore the gardens via the pumpkin-vine tunnel.

“It’s really very educational to be here and talk to the people (and to) answer their questions and direct them to our Web site,” said Lemke.

Lemke said the Discover Garden has been a part of the fair for about 25 years and is full of not only annual and perennial plants, but water features, birdhouses and other elements that many times come from volunteers’ own gardens.

“We will literally empty our yards for the fair,” Lemke said.

Discovery Garden is a cooperative effort between the Polk County Extension District Master Gardeners and the Iowa State Fair and features several individual gardens that Lemke says each serve a different purpose.

Some of those include new and unusual plant material, annuals, perennials and landscaping design and techniques.

Lemke said the Master Gardeners work very hard to get the gardens in tip-top shape for their peak display time during the Iowa State Fair.

Work on the Discovery Garden she says begins about the third week in April and continues throughout the summer at least once a week when they set aside a special time for “work night,” which is typically Wednesday evenings.

On Tuesday evenings, Lemke said, the garden is the spot for special interest talks that cover many gardening topics including bee keeping, water features and even worm gardening.

This year, Lemke’s spot is called the south corner garden.

“I begin planning it a year ahead of time,” said Lemke. “I get ideas at the garden and other places and catalogs. I’m always looking for ideas for next year.”

Various shades of yellow, orange and blue, she said, are her favorite combinations of colors to plant. Her small garden at the fair is primarily annuals and this year, due to reconstruction of a pond, she finally got everything planted on June 24.

Some of her varieties she has planted this year include a Profusion Fire zinnia; saliva for the butterflies and bees, and a Bulls Blood beet.

Lemke said she has been a Master Gardener since 2003 has volunteered at the fair for four years. But gardening is something she has done since a young girl on her family farm just west of Webster City.

Lemke said she was raised on a farm where her father raised corn, soybeans, some popcorn and feeder cattle in addition to the vegetable garden of her mothers.

“I always helped my mother with our large garden at home,” she said. “We grew our on food.”

Ethan Pierce, 10, of Grinnell, has made it a tradition to stop at Discovery Garden each year at the fair.

Pierce, who has been coming to the fair every year and going through the tunnel since he was able to walk, said the garden is one of his favorite parts of the fair.

“I like it because there’s a lot of bees around and I’m interested in them,” said Pierce.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

Heritage Village

The Iowa State Fair also allows fairgoers to take a trip back to about the time of the fair’s establishment in 1854 when they visit Heritage Village.

Heritage Village consists of the First Church, where daily hymns are sung, a general store, barber shop, telephone company, railroad depot and a one-room country school building.

Diana Darge, a former Des Moines school teacher said the country school came to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in 1968 from Indianola.

The former North Lincoln School she said was built in 1896 and although some items have been replaced and refurbished, it remains an authentic old country school.

Practically each day of the fair, Darge teaches a regular school day for kids ranging in ages from preschool up to sixth grade. Lessons for a morning session, she said, will include arithmetic, reading, art and language.

Eight different area schools will bring children in this year, Darge said, and she is also working towards the goal of having a different school visit to fill up the entire 11 days of the fair.

Mother Goose, also known as storyteller Nina Givin, will also be at the country schoolhouse throughout the fair singing songs, reading stories and helping children in her audience be part of puppet shows.

Outside of First Church, children can forget about video games and television for awhile and enter in the marble shoot contest held every day of the fair from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Jackson Garlock, 11, of Des Moines, worked through the competition during the first day of the fair with this being his second time entering the shoot.

“Last year I won second place,” said Garlock.

Garlock first discovered the game of marbles after finding some at his grandmother’s house.

Breanne Wilhite, 10, of Waukee, had just gotten beat by Garlock, but was proud of how she had done that day playing her three games, considering it was her first time ever playing marbles.

“My cousin had showed me a little, but they taught us at the beginning of the day,” she said. “I like it because you have to have strategies and it’s not a very active game so you don’t get too tired.”

John Hawxby, of Des Moines, comes to help judge the contests.

“It’s nice to show kids there’s other things than electronic games and I enjoy the fair. I’ve been a participant or working at the fair since I was 12,” said Hawxby. “I played marbles as a kid and am an avid collector of old marbles.”

Prizes and awards are presented to all players including a ribbon, certificate, button, two-for-one-passes to the zoo and a bag of marbles.

Hawxby remembers showing his rabbits and pigeons as a kid and has also volunteered his time working at the state fair, which includes the Ye Old Mill.

“You get to meet a lot of different people and I remember enjoying the fair as a kid, the picnic lunches – it was the highlight of our summer,” he said.

You can contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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