For 15 years Dayna Justus collected bunches of trophies and plaques in every category possible competing in the Amateur Garden competition at the Sonoma County Fair. But after she won Best of Show in 2016 the Santa Rosa home schooling, 4-H mom got a very special offer.
Greg Duncan, the creative director of the fair’s showpiece Hall of Flowers, invited her to come inside.
For a garden competitor at the fair, creating a garden in the Hall of Flowers is a little like an actor leaping from community theater to Broadway. The work, the financial investment, the expectations and the exposure are amped up many times over.
Justus couldn’t believe her good fortune.
“It was,” she said, “my dream come true.”
“I felt so honored and so privileged.”
As a girl growing up in Santa Rosa she would enter animals in the fair every year.
“I was kind of a misfit. I was quieter, kind of shy. When I was done with my pig stuff I would come up here to the hall and go ‘wow.’ I’d sit inside and think, ‘Someday I would love to do this.’”
It took until she was 40 to realize her childhood fantasy and she wasn’t disappointed. Making it easier is the fact that the fair has always been a family affair with three generations of her family pitching in. And this year, when a longtime competitor had to drop out, her brother Shawn Husar stepped in late in the game to take over a garden on the opposite side of the hall.
The siblings however, have little rivalry. The whole Husar/Justus clan came together to collaborate on both gardens this year. Shawn, 37, provides the muscle and the construction know-how and older sister Dayna adds the plant expertise.
Hall of Flower gardens are judged on a Danish point system that permits multiple first place winners provided exhibitors meet a list of requirements. For the Hall of Flowers that includes ensuring that 40 percent of the garden be floral and no more than 20 percent in hardscaping.
Outside in the amateur garden area Justus’ son Alex, 13, now in his fourth year, and Husar’s daughter Jasmine, 11, are in training, having put together gardens in the Junior category.
Visitors to the fair will be transported to the coast by Justus’ 1,200 square-foot masterpiece of ingenuity, which includes a dock and a series of tidepools where water is rigged to whoosh in and out, spilling out of abalone shells. That earned her a Best Water Feature Trophy. She also took a First Place overall and an award for Best Use of Hydrangeas.
Daniel R. Gibbs, a professional landscaper who created a tour de force with his Coastal Charisma garden next to Justus, took Best of Show. The theme of this year’s show is “Seasons of Sonoma,” with each of 10 gardens representing a different part of the county’s diverse natural beauty.
Across the Hall, Husar’s Oak Meadows portrays another slice of Sonoma County’s beauty. A diesel mechanic who loves to make things, Husar built a Hobbit-sized cabin out of old fencing that, during garden construction, was equipped with a mini fridge filled with cold beer for refreshment.