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CALS students enhance State Fair gardens

For the second year, Barbara Fair’s landscape students from N.C. State University’s horticultural science department have played a role enhancing the State Fair’s flower and garden area, while learning valuable skills that will help them professionally.

After winning the Commissioner’s Award for gardens created last year, Fair’s students dug in to take on even more ambitious projects this year, including a new wooden deck, paver demonstration areas, “living walls,” an arbor with a “green roof” and a garden with water features.

Beginning in August when classes started at N.C. State, students spent three hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays working in the fair garden, as their lab experience for the horticultural science trees and grounds class

Much of the students’ work was done on a terrace at the top of the garden area that needed some new interest.

“They transformed an area that most folks would have walked past,” said Erv Evans, superintendent of the fair’s flower and garden area and retired extension horticulture associate.

In addition, the students built a large wooden deck in the center of the garden area and created a demonstration site with different patterns of brick pavers.

Deck at State Fair
Students built this large deck at the garden area where fairgoers can relax and watch demonstrations.

The large deck with benches was used for some butterfly talks during the State Fair in October this year. “When it’s not being used, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy the gardens,” Evans said.

Last year, Fair’s classes developed several garden beds that included a tall tree sculpture, the “Stately Fair Tree,” created by student Nathan Mattar. This year, students painted the tree bright colors.

On the upper terrace of the garden area, students installed water features that included a small waterfall, fountain and a bog garden. Children delighted in running across a small footbridge over the stream flowing from the waterfall.

The bog garden was an effort to make use of a pond liner left at the garden site by a previous designer. “The class replaced the pond water with soil and peat and added plants that were adapted to the site – pitcher plants, hibiscus – and others that like wetness,” Fair said

In addition, the students created a small arbor with a green roof covered in plants and gutters that channeled rainwater into a rain barrel. A bench under the arbor gave fairgoers a shady place to rest.

Creating something like the green roof on a small scale makes the idea more accessible to people who might want to try it at home. “It was easy to make with real simple materials. This shows that a green roof doesn’t have to be large,” Fair said.

living wall box
Boxes of plants create a "living wall" on a wooden fence at the garden.

Students also added interest to a plain wooden fence by creating a “living wall,” boxes with filled with soil and plant materials.

Evans and Fair said the experience working in the garden gave the students practical, hands-on experience with tools and materials they will need for work in landscaping.

“The value to the kids was to do the hands-on installation,” Evans said.

“The key is to let them get an idea of what they have to do when they get out into the industry. This gives them a chance to use those skills before they go out into the workplace,” Fair said.


See more photos of the students’ work at the State Fair gardens.

-N. Hampton