By Janie Southard
Loretta Fast, who will be 92 in November, has been entering flowers at the Mercer County Fair for more than half a century.
"I don't have a favorite flower I just love them all," says Fast on Friday as she sets one arrangement after another on the table and then stoops nimbly to retrieve a fallen yellow marigold.
She has a sure fire system for selecting which blooms go into her arrangements and show up as single flower entries.
"I go out in the yard the same morning I'm going to the fair and see which flowers look nicest; those are the ones who get to go. The others have to stay home," she says, adding that the vases are prepared a few days before.
Fast of Celina became interested in flowers 50-some years ago when her oldest daughter was in 4-H. Her hope has been to make enough premium money to pay for her fair ticket, so far it's working. "I do love flowers. The Lord makes them bloom and then I just do what I can," she says.
Another lady doing what she can with flower arrangements is Eileen Bollenbacher, Rockford, who has been entering award-winning arrangements for many years.
Friday morning she put the finishing touches on an unusual but attractive arrangement of sedum, gladiola leaves, fresh peppers and red beets.
"I grow a lot of flowers, some perennials but mostly annuals because I like to have a lot of cut flowers," she says as she snips a wayward piece of dried foliage.
Foliage played a big part in the first flower show she ever competed in.
"I had lots of beautiful flowers with me and I made my arrangements. But I didn't bring any foliage. The judges took off a lot for that, but I learned something," she says.
Bollenbacher says trial and error is the best way to learn flower arranging or anything else. She prefers the more linear arrangements as opposed to a broad mass or modern arrangement.
"Modern or abstract arrangements use flowers in an unusual way, like putting a flower upside down. I'm afraid I'm not very good at modern. I like the traditional," she says.
A tip from Bollenbacher is to use lighter colors at the top of the arrangement and keep the darker colors at the base. Otherwise the arrangement will look top heavy.
"I think too most new arrangers don't make the arrangement tall enough. It needs to be at least a time and a half as tall as the container," she says as she puts the beets and sedum blooms in place.
Reta Schroeder, Celina, is up front very busy getting her pink and bright crimson gladiolas ready for the single flower competition.
Schroeder, a retired Mercer County Community Hospital nurse, says she wishes she'd acted on her interest in flowers a lot sooner than she did.
"I retired three years ago and that's when I got started with flowers," she says.
Schroeder stood at the front table for a long time studying her entries closely. Turning the crimson glad this way and that, she finally tweaked off the lowest flower.
"Boy, I hate to do that," she says. But as she turns the tall spike around, the remaining blooms form a tight cluster of fierce red and off it goes to join the others at the glad section of the competition.