Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Fair time

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Red Fred and the Giant Gnome

Cooler nights, hot days. Despite a long hiatus, the Pottawatomie County Free Fair pulled itself together. The much smaller, yet high quality, fair provided venues for livestock, plants, imaginatively decorated melons, tractors, baked goods, arts and crafts.

The Horticulture exhibits were in their own climate-controlled room at the end of the Otto Krausse building. The fresh produce and flowers were at their best in the cool. Amongst all the flowers, plants, fruits and veggies, one stood out. The tall orchid with a light purple floral spike won Best of Show.

Orchids usually bloom once a year, but if they’re really enjoying life, perhaps more often. Blooms can last 7 to 120 days. Californian Mary Gerritsen, a biotechnology consultant, grows orchids and has been at it for nearly 40 years. She’s written several books on orchids and visited many of their native habitats. Some of her orchids bloom 8 to 10 months. Mary keeps her epiphytes in two greenhouses and three lathe houses—outdoor orchid summer dwellings constructed of wood slats made into open lattices which allow light, air flow and rainfall.

The world’s smallest seed is produced by the orchid Gomesa crispa in the tropical rainforest. Orchids are the most numerous of all plants on earth; over 25,000 species and 125,000 hybrids. The Phalaenopsis orchid produces long-lasting blooms, but few varieties have any scent. Not equipped to store water, these orchids need frequent moisture. The Cattleya orchid blooms are short-lived, but many have unique scents. They can store water in their pseudobulbs, thus less picky about aqua.

Grand Champion Orchid

The Phalaenopsis orchids tend to get crown rot from nighttime rains, so lathe houses aren’t recommended for them. They do prefer basking in humidity between 55% to 75%. Cattleyas, on the other hand, do well outdoors during the summer in a protected place, night temps above 60 degrees, and weekly water.

My Cattleya orchid lives on the west window sill in bark chips, receives filtered light, probably too much water and has yet to bloom. One Cattleya survived my early spring transplanting ordeal. The other Cattleya gave up the ghost. I’m not sure if the yellow or orange orchid lived.

The Cattleya could keep the Star Jasmine plant company in the modified lathe home behind the EarthBox. I’m not sure I want the orchid to hear what the Jasmine has to say about being rootbound in a disintegrating pot where it has lived the past few years. It may expound on its annual ‘hair cut’ when all vines are trimmed before going into the greenhouse for the winter. The plant does have the most fragrant blooms in spring. Time to repot. When it’s cooler.

Back to the fair. Red Fred the scarecrow, wearing his mask, was bested by a giant gnome made by North Rock Creek 4-H. Since both my sons attended NRC, Fred had no hard feelings! Red Fred was happy to have some company in the rather warm, immense exposition hall. The two scarecrow entries leaned against the side of a triangular corral. Decorated pumpkins, gourds and watermelons sat on two tables. The Champion rosette was awarded to Oscar the Grouch, popping out of a rubbish filled trash can. The painted blue-eyed pumpkin with its tongue hanging out was selected Reserve Champion. Well-done. All the crafty displays served as attraction getters to direct people into the air-conditioned horticulture room.

Oscar and Blue Eyes

The inflatable bounce houses, Fetch and Fish Dog Show, chickens, rabbits, ducks, goose (one), FFA exhibits and posters filled the rest of the hall. On Friday cattle were going through their paces in the neighboring arena. The rest of the livestock judging was on Saturday. Firefighter Olympics and tractor pulling took place outside.

Although never one to do carnival rides, I missed the carnival where it was usually set up. The carnival came with its own food trucks. The odor of fried onions, hamburgers and cotton candy would drift across the area. This year, only the kettle corn truck showed up, parked by the conference center. Inside the building were 4-H projects, photos, crafts, baking exhibits, vendors, the Multi-County Master Gardeners and a few public interest groups. Shame there weren’t more food trucks on hand to provide refreshments.

The two state fairs in Oklahoma are up and going this year. The OKC State Fair is Sept. 16 to the 26, and Tulsa State Fair from Sept. 30 to Oct. 10. Along with all the usual fair things, OKC Fair will have five operating vaccine clinics. Tulsa is setting up clean stations.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair in Ft. Smith Arkansas, which starts Sept. 24 and ends Oct 2. This was the fair Wister Schools loaded students in yellow buses to go spend the day. I landed a ping pong ball on top of a small bowl and won not only the goldfish but the bowl. It was on the return trip Sam gave me the fish he won and had already named Oscar. I named my goldfish Herman. Those two fish lived for years in an aquarium in my bedroom. This is the fair where I won a purple stuffed snake at the shooting wheel. My mother refused to let me bring it into the house. The fair where the food vendor yelled “Hot dogs, hot dogs, nice and greasy, slip down easy!” Where the annual pilgrimage to visit Old McDonald’s Farm took place. It’s still there. The chicken exhibit wall to wall with every imaginable type chicken.

One year I kept a chicken brooder in my bedroom (electricity) until the family demanded the Murray McMurray straight run chicks be moved outside to the barn (no electricity). Something about the chickens rousing and peeping every 3 to 5 minutes they didn’t like. I could go sleep in the barn with the chickens. The Partridge Rocks survived, were entered in the fair that year and won blue ribbons.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at