Florida Strawberry Festival

Plant City, Florida
February 28 - March 10, 2019

Each year nearby Plant City, the Strawberry Capital of the South, hosts the Florida Strawberry Festival.

It is a fun event, and students in eastern Hillsborough County are given a day off to attend the fair, which has a midway, numerous food and beverage vendors, an amphitheater that daily offers shows with groups such as the Oakridge Boys and Alabama, and numerous judging events such as with livestock and crafts.

One of the judged events is Horticulture, and this year Joyce decided to again compete. She last competed in 2011, before all her time was consumed in taking care of Fred and his illnesses.

In previous competitions, such as at the Florida State Fair and the Strawberry Fest, Joyce had competed very successfully, winning numerous Blue Ribbons and even some Best in Show awards. (A perhaps overly simplified explanation of Best in Show is that you not only have the Blue Ribbon winner in the banana category, but that your banana category winner is better that the winners of all other fruit categories ... so in this example you are Best among all fruits competing.)

(It turns that that Joyce’s mother Irene had also been a Best in Show winner in various Women’s World categories at the Florida State Fair and at the Florida Strawberry Fest.)

So back to this year, where Joyce's main entry in Horticulture would be in the Fairy Garden event.

The first task was to find a suitable container for the garden, since a simple, though elegant, dish wouldn’t be enough. We tried building around a wooden giraffe purchased in Jamaica and brought back to the US with some cost and effort. We also tried a wood base from a cut-down tree, but it split and had to be discarded.

Meanwhile Joyce and her friend Lu visited a Flea Market in Plant City and purchased a antique bird cage. It was around 13” in diameter and 26” high. That became the Fairy Garden home.

Then there were multiple trips to Home Depot, a plant store in downtown Tampa, and even to Walmart to find just the right plants. Joyce also had plants mailed in from Arizona and California. And there was a trip to Hobby Lobby and Dollar Tree to get the fairies and fairy home.

As the plants were collected they had to be cared for. And different plants need to be cared for in different ways. Some need sun; some need shade. Some need water; some can only have a very, very small amount of water.

But the plan came together in the last week, with just one major problem: the garden was overweight; around 36 pounds where the limit was 30. So that was more shopping, a minor design change, and a major replanting.

(By the way, the Jade Plant in the picture below and to the left won Best in Show at both the Florida State Fair and at the Strawberry Fest a few years ago.)

(Click on any slide to enlarge it.)

And then there was driving to the fairgrounds to day before to get Joyce’s submissions entered. According to Joyce every bump in the road between Brandon and Plant City threatened to destroy her work, but we somehow made it intact to the exhibition building where her Fairy Garden and her other submission, an Aloe plant in the Succulent category, were duly registered into the competition.

Joyce had a good time talking with friends from the Plant City Garden Club and other competitors who wdere turning in their entries. (The Garden Club people registering the submissions were very glad Joyce had listed all 32 of her different plant types on 3x5 cards.)

Then there was the wait until the next morning. Judging would begin at 7 AM and be complete before the fair opened at 10 AM.

Ariving at the Fair the next day shortly after 11, we learned that Joyce’s Fairy Garden submission at the Strawberry Fest not only won her category but was Best in Show which meant her entry was better than all other 150 plant entries, regardless of category. We also learned that one of the judges, Pat Strawn, was a long-time friend, and we have to mention that contestant names are not listed on the plants until; judging is complete. Pat said she knew she was looking at Best in Show" as soon as she saw the entry that turned out to be from Joyce.

Somehow, touring the fairgrounds and eating the treats seemed more fun after that. We ended our day at the great performance by the Oakridge Boys.