Down the Gold Path: Nevada County Fairgrounds’ marigolds get their day in the sun | TheUnion.com

Down the Gold Path: Nevada County Fairgrounds’ marigolds get their day in the sun

For over four decades, visitors to the Nevada County Fair have been greeted by row upon row of vibrant orange marigolds.

The flowers have become synonymous with the fair, but that wasn't always the case.

In 1973, Gold Path, as it is now known, replaced Petunia Pathway after a harmful fungus threatened the petunias. The marigolds are now an unofficial mascot of sorts for the fair, which begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

The planting and maintenance of Gold Path is a community effort between the fairgrounds, Weiss Brothers nursery and students from Nevada Union's agriculture classes.

“The kids really take ownership of the marigolds. Even after years, they still feel connected to the marigold path.”

— Nevada Union teacher Kate Alling

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Nevada County Fairgrounds head gardener Lindsey Hinds said about 900 to 1,000 marigolds are planted each year in anticipation of the fair. Most of them are planted along Gold Path though some are interspersed among different areas of the grounds.

"It's a timing thing," said Hinds, who is in her sixth year as head gardener. "They go in (the ground) in May and it's something we base off of fair dates."

Hinds works closely with Weiss Brothers, which orders the seeds for the particular marigolds eventually landing in the planter boxes along Gold Path. The flowers are considered a hybrid plant, which require a special hybrid seed.

"Weiss Brothers start them for me, then I take those seedlings," said Hinds. "We then coordinate with the horticulture class at Nevada Union. The kids come out and actually do the planting. "

"It's great because it keeps kids involved in another aspect of the fair, and great that Weiss helps out. It doesn't happen just on the fairgrounds."

Community connection

Nevada Union agriculture instructor Katie Alling said that her students find a certain sense of pride in planting the flowers along Gold Path.

"I love seeing kids who don't normally exhibit and don't have other ties to the fair," said Alling. "The kids really take ownership of the marigolds. Even after years, they still feel connected to the marigold path."

If you think that Hinds' work is done once the fair begins, you might be surprised. While the animals and carnival rides are tucked in to sleep, Hinds begins her work at midnight, toiling all night long in order to keep the marigolds in peak condition.

Hinds deadheads, de-buds and removes damaged flowers. Those that have been partially snapped at the stem are tied up, with hopes that it will repair itself with a little aid.

During the fair, the flowers — which are watered via an irrigation system — can get incredibly dusty and dirty, Hinds said, mostly from the carnival and animal areas which are predominantly built on dirt.

"I go through with a leaf blower and dust them off," she said. "You have to be careful."

If the flowers meet their maximum size – about 3.5 to 4 inches – they can break under their own weight.

Hinds said even the animals that are on exhibit during the fair do their part to make Gold Path the colorful and well-known attraction it has become.

Animal 'enrichment'

Following major events, such as the fair and the Draft Horse Classic, Hinds utilizes straw and manure left behind by the barnyard animals to create compost which is then used to enrich the soil in the boxes along Gold Path, a practice that was implemented about eight years ago.

"We keep (the marigolds) through the Draft Horse Classic in September," said Hinds. "The goal after the fair is to go through and deadhead as much as I can and (cut them) down so I will get a secondary bloom as full as I can. By the end of Draft Horse they have really been maxed out."

Hinds is thrilled that fairgoers are so enamored with the bright rows of cheerful flowers, but reminds people that they are for looking at, not for picking.

"Take photos, not flowers," she said. "That would be awesome."

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com or 530-477-4231.