BURTON - Blooms and leaves flow from simple glass vases as fairgoers filter through the historic 1890 flower building, a cool and freshly perfumed escape from the hustle and bustle of the 192nd consecutive year of the The Great Geauga County Fair.
The flowers seemed to provide a calm, effortless beauty Thursday afternoon, but for those involved in the competition, the day began early, and the judging was earnest business.
"We want to put on a nice display," flower show director Cheryl Carr said. "If you enter something that's not worthy, it's not going to get a ribbon if it's not up to snuff."
Tribune Chronicle photos / Margaret A. Thompson
Marilou Rupert inspects small flower arrangements at The Great Geauga County Fair. Rupert has been judging the arrangements for the flower show for 10 years.
The 68 classes of specimens began arriving at noon Wednesday. By cutoff at 8:30 p.m., the building was with nearly 1,400 entries, from hosta leaves to intricate arrangements to a 5-foot-tall elephant ear plant.
The judges - a horticulturist, a Master Gardener and a nationally certified specialist- arrived about 9 a.m. Thursday, the official opening day of the fair. For three and a half hours, they examined each leaf, stem and petal to determine the best in the class.
Each category comes with its own set of rules and guidelines, but perhaps the most scrutinized are the arrangements, Carr said, and that's because of Marilou Rupert.
Rupert has been the arrangements judge for the last 10 years, and she takes floral art seriously.
While the individual flowers in the arrangements may be lovely, when picking between entries,"sometimes it's choosing the lesser of two evils," Rupert said.
It's a wonder that the flowers don't start quaking in their vases at her approach.
Rupert is licensed by the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs and keeps a list of criteria for the perfect arrangement.
"There's balance and scale and depth...," she said.
Height is where most arrangements fall apart for her. She pointed to a hat with flowers poking out of the top. They should be at least one and a half times as tall as the hat is wide, she said.
A large arrangement of sunflowers in a heavy sienna pot garnered the award for best in show for several reasons.
"It's balanced, the container is heavy, the flowers are heavy," she said.
One sunflower straggling out of the front of the arrangement to the untrained eye looks like it might need pushed back into place. To Rupert, it provided depth of field to the composition.
"You've got to practice. You can't just submit flowers and expect a blue ribbon," she said.
Sometimes, though, it is just about the enjoyment. Emily Martin stopped in the flower house with her children Ivy, 5, and Ethan Martin, 8.
"We have a lot of flowers at home and they love to design them for their rooms," she said.
They stopped to take photos with their winning submissions in the children's division. Emily said putting the arrangements together provided good family time with the kids, but that Ivy enjoys tearing them up for "petal parties" just as much.
The second flower competition of the week, featuring roses and dahlias, will be open for viewing on Saturday.
"Part of having two shows is so that there are fresh flowers coming in," Carr said.
By the end of the fair with the blooms wilting, the building's scent isn't so lovely, but it doesn't compare to what flower show auxiliary member Doranell Koller calls "the year of the skunk."
A family of skunks once took over the building and made the best-smelling place on the fairgrounds into the worst.
"This hall smelled so bad, we had to sit outside" she said. "People would come by and say do you know it smells like skunk in there? I mean of course we did!"