Whether you plan to take a trip to Louisville, Kentucky to catch the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2, or choose to enjoy the race from home, I suggest you take a moment to appreciate the beautiful winning garlands awarded to the first place thoroughbreds of two distinctive races.
The Kentucky Derby’s legendary Garland of Roses is “the most coveted possession in the world of racing,” according to Tim McGurk of The Kroger Company, whose master floral designers assemble the 40-pound garland by hand each year. “With the Garland of Roses being such an important part of the Kentucky Derby tradition, it is an honor for our team of floral designers to be involved,” McGurk said. While the rose became the official flower of the Kentucky Derby in 1904, the first garland made an appearance at the 1934 Derby.
Each rose is tucked into its own hidden vial of water, then hand-sewn into a green satin backing. The Garland is 122 inches long and 22 inches wide, with an attractive handmade border of boxwood, camellia and coffee leaves surrounding the “Freedom” roses. Custom-made ribbons are tied to fronds at each end and to a crown of roses at the center of the garland, where a single rose stands alone. Called “the crown,” this flower “symbolizes the struggle and heart necessary to reach the Derby Winner’s Circle,” according to the official Kentucky Derby website.
The construction of the garland takes approximately 12 hours and can be viewed by the public on Derby Eve at a Louisville Kroger store located at 12501 Shelbyville Road. This all-night event has become a tradition in itself, drawing thousands of spectators annually. Once completed, the garland is on display to the public throughout the night. Kroger master florists also craft the Jockey’s Bouquet, which consists of 60 long-stemmed red roses tied with 10 yards of red ribbon.
On the morning of the Kentucky Derby, the completed garland and Jockey’s Bouquet are both transported to Churchill Downs by a police escort, where they are on display for a brief time before the race. Kroger florists are available to answer questions and talk to spectators.
Beautiful flowers are also a spectacular part of another equally captivating thoroughbred race that takes place the day before the Derby: the Kentucky Oaks. The Pink Stargazer Lily is the official flower of this race, also known as “The Run for the Lilies.” The Oaks winner is adorned with a large garland, lovingly referred to as “Lilies for the Fillies,” hand-crafted by The Kroger Company. This garland has a more feminine look, with more than 140 lilies trimmed with a border of Oak Ivy. As with the Derby garland, each flower is placed in its own vial of water, then hand-sewn into white tulle netting, and set against a white satin backing. When finished, this garland measures 126 inches long (slightly longer than the Derby Garland) and 20 inches wide, weighing approximately 20 pounds.
The pink lily has inspired a new tradition at the Oaks; a Survivors Parade for a select group of women who have fought breast and ovarian cancer. Participants, spectators, and even the buildings are decked out in pink for this march on the Churchill Downs racetrack the day of the Oaks.
The painstaking detail that goes into both these spectacular floral creations helps make the Derby a splendid event. Even if you are not planning a trip to Churchill Downs this week, do treat yourself to a bouquet of fresh flowers.
If you’re inspired to celebrate this grand occasion with your own Kentucky Derby party, visit my Pinterest page for more tips. You can also visit my The Huffington Post blog for more Kentucky Derby Tips and Traditions.