Edith Dickenson is quick to dismiss any compliments about the high green cornstalks, fragrant pink and burgundy roses and yellow sunflowers in her garden.
“Oh, most of the garden hasn’t even bloomed yet,” she said.
The garden is just feet from Argyle Avenue and the fairgrounds, but stepping into it is like entering another world. Behind the garden, trees with gnarled branches make little canopies overhead and birds fly in and out casting their small shadows, which create the effect of a shimmering light.
Dickenson has lived and gardened at this very spot since 1958. She attends the San Juan Country Fair every year and usually enters various flowers, fruits and vegetables in fair exhibits. But for the last three years, when the San Juan County Fair Exhibit Guide and Premium Book was not printed, she refused to enter anything at all
“I missed having the book and going out into my garden and looking through it. It was a great thing to do,” Dickenson said. “You could go online, but what about the people who aren’t part of the online community.”
She primarily used the book for the exhibit guidelines so she could groom her flowers to win blue or red ribbons. For Dickenson, the book was like an invitation to the fair’s exhibits.
“When you don’t get an invitation to the party you don’t go,” she said.
Now that the book has returned, Dickenson is considering what to enter, she is still waiting for certain flowers to bloom in the garden. She won’t be entering her roses because she judging the rose exhibits. Yes, she is returning as a judge too.
Dickenson does not attribute the return of the book to her protest, but rather to many people including the San Juan Island Garden Club, who published this year’s book with San Juan Public Access Media with the support of the San Juan Island Community Foundation.
“It wasn’t just me,” she said. “Many people were really upset.”
But even in those years that she did not enter in the exhibits she still went to support friends.
“I felt like I was just a visitor,” chuckled Dickenson.
This was an odd feeling because of her long history with the fair.
Dickenson said she started entering her garden items in the fair after her friend, Larry Soll left a pair of left-handed pruning shears on her porch.
“They are very hard to find,” she said.
In exchange for the shears, Soll wanted to see lots of “things from the garden entered in the fair.”
In the 1960s she worked with the volunteer crew that prepared the grounds and she fondly remembers the parade, which was a “big event.”
“Hardly anyone remembers that now,” she said.
She also remember when you used to bring your exhibits in hand when you entered the fair. Back then you got a discounted price.
“My kids told me later, that they’d sneak something from my garden to get the discount price,” she said laughing.
One year an artichoke flower disappeared and another year some hanging flowers disappeared. She never found those flowers entered in an exhibit or in the fair’s garbage cans, which she did check, so where they went is a mystery this day.
“What’s really sad is that the exhibits will be really light this year because of the kind of weather we’ve had,” Dickenson said with a sigh. “My fruit trees should be collapsing this time of year.”
The book may have returned, but there is still the problem of the weather and deer, which have been hard on Dickenson’s garden, but that’s not going to stop her this year from being a part of the fair.
As she thinks about all the fairs over the years, Dickenson sums it all up with theses words, “The 1st day is exciting, the 2nd day is okay and by Friday I’m so ready for it to be over.”