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Garden expo showcases hard-to-find plants, tools
Event also featured speakers, gardening demonstrations, workshops
Greg Phillips carries a Japanese maple around the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center Friday afternoon as he attends the Hall County Master Gardeners’ Spring Garden Expo.

With the danger of frost over, it's finally safe to trade in those winter gloves for the gardening ones.

And for folks seeking something different to plant this season, the Hall County Master Gardeners' Spring Garden Expo, with its thousands of green offerings, was a floraphile's delight.

"People are looking for things they can't find in the regular stores," said Lisa Clement, Hall County Master Gardener and expo organizer.

Over the weekend, 60 vendors transformed the main arena of the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville into a huge, open greenhouse filled with trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials and more.

Thirteen-year-old Killian Waters of Braselton pulled a red wagon just behind his parents, Jeff and Sabrina. The wagon was empty because the Waters family had just dropped off their first batch of plants and were about to make their second round of the expo.

"We like the lavender azaleas," said Jeff Waters, 40, "We haven't seen those anywhere else."

Organizers estimate 5,000 people attended the expo between Friday and Saturday, and though the Smithgall Woodland Garden brought plenty of hard-to-find plants, most of their offerings were purchased by the end of the first day.

"I'd say we sold two-thirds of our inventory yesterday," said Ethan Guthrie, greenhouse nursery manager.

New to the gardening scene are the hellebores, or lenten roses, a European perennial that has gained in popularity over the years. Grower Mary Wenger said the plants are drought-resistant, deer-resistant and easy to care for.

"There's not much you do with them, just put them in the ground and leave them alone," she said.

The plants, which have white, soft pink or purple flowers, were so sought-after at the expo that Wenger didn't have many left to sell on Saturday afternoon. But there will be plenty more for her to grow: each flower produces 60 seeds, so the plants easily multiply.

"The more you get the more you can give away to your friends," she said.

Wenger's own inventory stems from her first three hellebores, a gift from a friend 10 years ago.

The expo not only featured a plethora of plants, but tons of gardening tools. From the latest - like the adjustable metal rake sold by Horizons - to the traditional - like the nearly 200-year-old restored felling ax - the expo had it all.

Gary Whynaucht, whose business Singing Hills Antiques is based in North Augusta, travels around the country with his wife searching for antique hoes, pitchforks and even sprinklers to restore. He said people appreciate the quality and versatility of old tools.

"You can't find a decent pitchfork or claw any more - the quality just isn't there," Whynaucht said.

But these days it takes more than a hardy plant and a decent rake to make an attractive garden, and landscape and design vendors were at-hand. Garden art and accessories, from the traditional painted bird houses to the new bottle trees made of metal and glass, were all sold at the expo.

"I think people are really interested in garden art," Clement said.

New to this year's event were Fred Gilstrol's antique water fountains, made of copper kettles, silver pales or even wine bottles, supported by old farming tools or driftwood.

Cindy Reed of Keep Hall Beautiful took a break from running the kids' activity table to purchase one of Gilstrol's antique water fountains for her apartment balcony. The piece featured one brass vase pouring water into a larger vase.

"I like the brass," she said, "I just thought it was really elegant."

Originally built as decoration for his Gatlinburg tourism booth years ago, Gilstrol's rustic fountains quickly became more popular than his travel brochures. He loves selling them everywhere, but especially in the North Georgia Mountains.

"People that are in the mountains versus people that live in the city appreciate it a lot more, because they were around that stuff growing up," he said.

The expo, sponsored in conjunction with the Hall County branch of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, also featured speakers, gardening demos and workshops, and a children's booth where kids created "edible compost."

Clement hopes the expo will not only allow gardeners a chance to buy hard-to-find plants, but an opportunity to learn about others they weren't even aware of.

"It's being able to find what they're looking for - (and) because of the variety, people learn more," she said.

The Hall County Master Gardeners has a garden walk coming up in June. The annual fall garden expo will be in September.

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