Do these petals make me look fat?

The flowers from last year's state fair popped up at this year's Washington County Fair

If you were a flower, what kind would you be? Do you like to dress in bright, flashy colors and do you resent excessive shade? Have you ever been out with a group of friends and thought to yourself, “No one puts baby in the corner!” If so, you would make a great royal catchfly. One of only two Minnesota natives with bright red flowers, it is well suited for raingardens, native gardens or shoreline plantings. Perhaps, though, you are a gentle soul who loves the water and has a healing way with people. In that case, you’ve got more in common with boneset, another native plant with a sweet smell and a variety of medicinal uses. Personally, I think I’m most like wild geranium – happy anywhere but with a tendency to get out of control, especially when I’m sharing a really great story with my friends. How else will they know what that dying cockroach looked like if I don’t lie down on the floor and kick my legs up in the air to show them?

At this year’s State Fair, you can take your floral musings a little bit further with a visit to the Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water area in the Eco Experience building ( There, you can pose for photos with larger than life flowers on a stick, find out just how deep the roots of native plants go, or challenge your friends at a game of water skeeball. The flowers on a stick made their first appearance at last year’s fair. Inventor Dawn Pape, a Ramsey County Master Gardener and educator for the Rice Creek Watershed District, was looking for a fun way to talk to people about native plants. She designed a set of flowers and assigned each a couple of “character traits.” Fairgoers loved the idea. “We had people posing for photos in groups as large as twenty,” she says, “The funniest part was listening to them assigning flower traits to one another. ‘High maintenance,’ someone would say, ‘That is totally you mom!’”

The flower photos were so much fun that the Blue Thumb partners have brought them back for a second year at the fair, this time with substantial improvements. Last year’s flowers were all the same shape, but this year a graphic designer has helped to bring those native plants to life. The blazing star is a cocoon of bright purple petals, much like the style of Marge Simpson’s hair. Meanwhile, the yellow sneezeweed petals dangle below the face cut-out like a giant golden beard. This year, there is also a photo backdrop of a Minnesota lakeshore for people to pose in front of. “We figured, why not go all out?” says Pape, “The sillier the better when it comes to the state fair.”

Blue Thumb is a unique collaboration of more than 70 public and private partners in Minnesota and nearby. The group shares the common mission of educating and helping people to keep water clean using native plants, raingardens and native plantings along shorelines and streambanks. Among the collaborators, there are nurseries and garden centers, landscape designers and installers, non-profit organizations and local government units such as cities and watershed districts. Pooling their collective time and resources, the group has created a top-notch website for consumers (, and has also put on hundreds of workshops, trainings and events for the public during the past four years.

One thing that has made the Blue Thumb program so successful is its emphasis on designing gardens and plantings that are beautiful as well as environmentally friendly. “People want to do the right thing, and they place a high value on clean lakes, rivers and drinking water,” says Tina Plant from Hedberg Landscaping.  “At the same time, when you have a garden in your front yard, you want it to be attractive and compliment your home and existing landscaping.” Because of the mix of partners involved in Blue Thumb, people can now get a considerable amount of assistance in planting raingardens or native shoreline projects. In some places, such as Washington County, the Washington Conservation District offers free site visits to residents to scout out the best location for a raingarden or trouble-shoot erosion or shoreline problems. From there, Conservation District staff can put together a planting plan or turn things over to one of the many talented and creative designers in the Blue Thumb partnership. Meanwhile, the dozens of native plant retailers throughout the area make it easy for people to purchase the right plants for their yards. Oftentimes, the growers will even collaborate on plant sales with local community groups. Two upcoming sales this fall include one at the Woodbury City Hall on September 10, 9am-1pm and the Wild Ones native plant sale on September 17, 10am-2pm at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Still having trouble picturing yourself as a plant? Then stop by and visit Blue Thumb at the “Great Minnesota Get Together.” We’ll help you try one on for size, and then say without a hint of irony, “No, you don’t look at all fat in that giant flower head!”