April showers have brought May flowers… to the blog. Today’s post is the first entry in a May Bouquet series focused on flowers one might find in a bouquet. Y’know, leading up to Mother’s Day next Sunday. Think of these posts as daily reminders with wonderful suggestions on ways to honor the mothers in your lives. Let’s get started with one of the most popular bouquet flowers no matter the day of the year- roses.
I’ve written previously about the journey these blooms make from fields and greenhouses in Ecuador to the vases on your countertops. Today, roses are pulling double duty as holiday plants because today is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby has also become known as the Run for the Roses because of the garland and enormous bouquet of red roses bestowed on the winner. Sure, Derby Day is filled with news coverage of the various moving backstories of the entrants, owners, trainers and jockeys for the three-year-old thoroughbreds. The scenes are filled with women in outlandish hats sipping mint juleps* and there’s even more speculation on odds for the gambling crowd. But as for the roses, that tradition has been standardized such that there is essentially no guesswork involved.
Roses made their first appearance at the 1896 running of the Kentucky Derby, but they were pink and white, not red. The red rose was adopted as the official flower of the race in 1904, and the term “Run for the Roses” was coined in 1925. The elaborate ‘garland,’ which actually looks more like a blanket than the image the word garland conjures, began in 1932.
The garland is comprised of more than 400 intensely red Freedom roses sewn into a green stain backing by florists from the Kroger Company. For those readers interested in floral arrangements as a spectator’s sport, you can mark your calendars for next year’s Kentucky Derby Eve. If one were to show up that Friday afternoon and evening at the Louisville Kroger store (12501 Shelbyville Road), you could watch a dozen florists carefully assemble the elaborate garland. All this, after they have spent hours carefully selecting only the most perfect and uniform roses from thousands of potential buds. Even with this host of skilled workers, it will take about 7 hours to incorporate the roses into a 122-inch by 22-inch garland. Each rose has its own water vial that is carefully hand-sewn into the fabric backing. The garland may appear to be a sea of uniform red flowers, but it does include a ‘crown’ at the top with a single red rose that rises above the rest to symbolize the struggle and sacrifice it takes to stand above all the others. All told, the final garland weighs about 40 lbs, an extra weight in the saddle that every entrant would be glad to add at the end of the race.
These flowers are the perfect symbol for the fleeting fame of Derby winners. As a spectacle, it’s a great day and racing enthusiasts are filled with hope that this year may be the year a Triple Crown winner is coronated. Yet, many years pass and many great Derby horses turn out to be only flashes in the pan. For those winners, however, their garlands don’t have to be. In the past, winners received a silk replica to have for posterity, but freeze-drying is the way to do these days. At least one winner has had a rose from their garland dipped in silver to preserve its glory (currently on display at the Derby Museum).
Enjoy the race today. When they drape the roses on the winner today**, you can just nod appreciatively at the garland and all the effort that went into its creation.
*Note: Mint Juleps also have more than their fair share of plant products. I’ve written previously about mint and sugar on this blog as well. Feel free to read those links and share your knowledge with your friends as you sip your refreshing beverage.
**My pick: Ride on Curlin. His sire was a great racer and his Jockey is Louisiana’s own Calvin Borel.
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