PUBLISHED: 4:21 PM on Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Skagway gardeners show off fruits of their labor
SKAGWAY - Gardening in Southeast Alaska is never easy, and this summer has been colder than usual. Yet dedicated Skagway gardeners are still preparing their displays for the annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show Aug. 10-12.

Skagway has been declared the "Garden City of Alaska" and for the past 26 years more than 50 local gardeners have showcased their homegrown flowers, fruit and plants, often in creative displays.

photos courtesy of Debbie Ackerman
  The annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show showcases creatively-displayed flowers, fruits and plants grown by Skagway gardeners
"We've had horticulturists from around the world be very impressed by the show," said organizer Debbie Ackerman.

The displays are always a surprise. Past displays have included baskets hanging from a bicycle and a chair covered in moss with geraniums growing in the seat. Some gardeners have even planted flowers in old hiking boots.

This year's show will be dedicated to Violet "Connie" Conard, who passed away in March. Conard organized the show since its debut in 1982. She was dedicated to presenting a top-notch event, including an elegant tea and cookie service.

When other organizers wanted to serve tea in disposable cups, Conard insisted on bringing out her best china.

"She had this fabulous collection of china teacups and she would want to bring them down to use every year," Ackerman said.

Conard willed the teacups to the Eastern Star chapter and they will be used at this year's show.

The Elma McMillen Rose Award will be presented to the best rose display and the Lynne Ruff Award goes to the most outstanding display. These two awards honor the women who started the tradition of giving awards at the show.

"When we first started doing the show, we didn't have awards," Ackerman said. "Then, for years these two individuals just donated the ribbons."

The show's highest honor, the prestigious Edie Lee Award for the most outstanding gardener, is named for a woman who was instrumental in getting a garden club started.

Every year Eastern Star encourages new gardeners with a challenge: graduating Kindergartners receive a pot, soil and seeds. If they bring plants to the flower show they receive a gift certificate for an ice cream cone.

The show celebrates local gardeners of all ages, from those who raise giant cabbages and tomatoes to those who cultivate orchids in their homes.

"We're very proud of our gardeners," said Marlene McCluskey, manager of the Skagway Convention and Visitor's Bureau, which donates space for the show.

Although she doesn't plan on participating in the show, McCluskey has a unique garden behind her house.

"I have a bathtub in my alley that a friend of mine has planted with carrots," she said.

Ackerman has a more portable flower bed: This year she planted nasturtiums in a Red Flyer wagon, which she will wheel over to the show.

And in good seasons and bad, Skagway gardeners can celebrate growing in a difficult environment.

"If we have a good summer we can have some good-sized cabbage that can really wow the visitors," Ackerman said. And if not, "We keep reminding ourselves, we live in the rainforest, we live in the rainforest!"

The 26th annual Skagway Flower and Garden show will be held Aug. 10-12 at the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. The show will be open from 8 am to 6 pm each day. Admission is still only $1 and proceeds from the show support the Easter Star's scholarship program.