BROOKSVILLE — A stroll through the home and horticulture entries at this year's Hernando County Fair proves there is a plethora of nimble fingers and green thumbs among the local populace.
Handcrafted baskets and needlework, drawings and paintings, tenderly grown specialty plants and artfully composed gardens in pots attest to a number of leisure activities for youth and senior citizens.
Consider 9-year-old Kristina Nelson of Spring Hill, who earned the youth Best in Show in basketry, her first fair endeavor. She learned the craft in the MicroSociety program at Chocachatti Elementary School, under the tutelage of classroom teacher Marsha Eicholtz, visiting specialist Jill Stenholm and Frances Doulk of the Hernando Weavers Association.
Kristina's winner is a "pocket basket," resembling a medium-size handbag, woven of thin, inch-wide natural wooden strips.
"I was just looking through patterns, and I thought that looked really nice," she said.
Baskets outnumbered other category entries in the home arts and crafts show.
In contrast to Kristina, Ronald Parks of the Weeki Wachee Senior Citizens Club, who won the Best in Show adult entry, is 63. His pine needle round-based table basket features inlays of thread-thin black wire wheels and stone or shell slices — he's not sure which — he purchased at a rock and gem show.
"If you see something you like, you just buy them," Parks said, not knowing at the time how he would include them in a basket.
While basket entries outnumbered quilts this year, Mary B. Davis, an exhibit hall information volunteer, said quilts are still a popular category at the fair.
Davis counted more than a dozen quilts, seven of them that she rounded up for entry from members of the Weeki Wachee Senior Citizens Club, where she quilts every Wednesday.
Many of the mostly elderly quilters aren't keen to make the trip to deliver their quilts for competition, so Davis, 71, does the chore for them. And one of them, a lavishly embroidered wall-hanging quilt by Kathleen Beachman, 70, earned Best in Show.
On hearing of the prize, Beachman said, "I'm breathless."
She said she learned to embroider as a child; then her mother-in-law taught her quilting. Beachman's quilt, titled "Mother's Love," is stitched around doilies imprinted with sayings about mothers and decorated with embroidered flowers.
Elsewhere, the Best in Show horticultural prize for adults was accorded to a rabbit foot fern, a broad and deeply hanging heroic plant that would defy the bounds of a bushel basket, 20 years in the growing.
Entrant Sharon Hughes of Brooksville said she almost lost it last winter, adding, "I have a good husband who puts (her perennial plants) in the workshop for me."
The fern was saved from the cold, but suffered from the lack of sunlight inside, Hughes said. She nursed it back to vibrant health, however, and the fair judges took note that considerable attention and tenderness had helped it grow to competition readiness.
In youth horticultural entries, 14-year-old Dana Klimas of Brooksville earned Best in Show with his cactus dish garden containing six varieties of cacti and succulents. He also earned prizes for his home-raised rabbits and showed goats for a fellow 4-H member who needed assistance.
Horticultural entries are on display in the commercial exhibit building, home arts and crafts in the auditorium building, through the end of the fair on Saturday.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.