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Garden Fair attracts 'green thumbs'

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Joe Metz, a helper at the spring Garden Fair held Saturday at the State Arboretum and Blandy Experimental Farm in Clarke County, hands a flower to Cindy McGregor, of Winchester, while her friend, Katie Perry, of Stephens City, looks on. Alex Bridges/Daily

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Harrisonburg couple Shirley and Gerald Brunk buy a bonsai tree from Benny Chang and Celestial Garden, of Brandywine, Md., at the spring Garden Fair held at the State Arboretum and Blandy Experimental Farm in Clarke County on Saturday. Alex Bridges/Daily

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

BOYCE -- The State Arboretum and Blandy Experimental Farm hosted its Garden Fair this weekend which drew both experienced "green thumbs" and people looking for last-minute Mother's Day gifts.

Vendors sold flowers, trees, carnivorous plants, herbs and vegetables, as well as garden supplies, water features, bird baths and other items. Fair-goers also could buy food and beverages from other vendors. The arboretum hosted a guided tour, demonstrations and offered activities for children.

While some fair-goers brought their own wagons to transport plants and other purchases, organizers also offered some that people could borrow for their visit.

Jim and Lynne Frost, of Winchester, made their first visit to the garden fair and bought a bonsai tree from Celestial Garden, of Brandywine, Md. Benny Chang spent time telling curious customers the proper way to care for the minature trees.

"We bought a new home and we want to get started outside planting plants and we have woods in the back of our house so we want to talk to the guy about the trees," Lynne Frost said.

"We're going to do some bonsai as well," Jim Frost added, holding one of the miniature trees in a pot. "They live 500 years."

The bonsai made Harrisonburg couple Gerald and Shirley Brunk realize they had more to learn about each other's common interests even after 28 years of marriage. The Brunks came to the fair for the first time with their Sunday school class from Harrisonburg Mennonite Church.

"There's lots of trees and plants," Gerald Brunk said.

"We just discovered we both had an interest in it," Shirley Brunk said.

Many of the fair-goers already do home gardening. Koren Voelkel, of Millwood, stood with children Savannah, 10, Lily, 8, and Grayson 4, while her husband stood in line to use a wagon. Even though it was the family's first time at the fair, the Voelkels, especially the children, already have had experience raising plants.

"I have my own garden," Lily said. "I like seeing them blooming."

"She has a big, orange Asiatic lily," Savannah said. "It's really pretty."

"The deer eat most of our plants," their mother noted.

Winchester resident Cindy McGregor went to the fair with her grandson, Tristan, visiting from South Carolina, and friend, Katie Perry, of Stephens City. McGregor pulled a red wagon with herbs for a garden and a water feature for her deck.

Berryville resident David Plummer continues to work on his home and, in an effort to make more shade on his property, bought a tulip poplar. The plant in its plastic pot towered over Plummer. The homeowner also had bulbs and a flowering quince in his red Radio Flyer wagon.

The fair attracted dozens of vendors from around Virginia and out of state. Many of the vendors also served as educators for both the novice and experienced gardeners, landscapers and flower aficianados.

Radical Roots Community Farm, of Keezletown, offered herbs, vegetables and fruiting shrubs. The farm recently received its organic certification, according to Dana Taylor. Radical Roots has attended the fair for eight years.

"It's a beautiful place, awesome customers," said Lee O'Neill, also with Radical Roots. "It's well-advertised."

O'Neill said she's come to the fair since she was pregnant with her son, now 7 years old.

"I have a 2-year-old, too, and they are begging to come tomorrow," O'Neill said.

Stephens City resident Tracy Riffle sought advice from O'Neill about vegetables then left with several plants which she placed in her wagon.

"Because I live in a subdivision and we have terrible soil I'm going to put a pot on my back deck with the tomatoes," Riffle said. "So I wanted to get the best tomato plants that would grow in a pot ... I have a 4-year-old granddaughter and so I want her to be involved and to have a love of [gardening]."

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