Visitors to the 53rd Annual St. Mary's County Fair celebrated the area's traditions this weekend with stuffed ham, 4-H livestock contests and the crowning of the Queen of Tolerance, a young woman who embodies the spirit of religious diversity on which the county was founded.

"I'm supposed to be a role model," said the new queen, Colleen Mattingly, 17, still shaking Thursday evening five minutes after she was chosen over 10 other girls for the title. Before she could further reflect on her coronation, a swarm of family and Chopticon High School classmates converged to check out her glittering tiara and blue cape.

Fairgoers who weren't at the pageant packed the grandstand for the human-pretzel stunts of the Mapapa acrobats from Kenya. Teenagers stuck to the midway rides and games, while their parents strolled through the exhibition halls.

Judy Roa of the St. Mary's County Garden Club greeted visitors in the flower building and whisked them off to see the 106 rose entries or the 147 annuals. She showed off a giant fern and chatted about how relieved she was that the recent drought didn't hinder the exhibition.

The show's piece de resistance was the cereus, a plant that takes 20 years to produce its first flower. Even then, it blooms just once a year and always at night. "You may never see this again in your lifetime," Roa said excitedly. Before long, her enthusiasm for greenery made folks who never planted a seed in their lives mourn the fact that the simple African violet is no longer an A-list variety.

"People are into perennials and roses now," Roa explained. "And herbs are very popular. Gardening is making a comeback."