Homer hosts peony celebration through July

The event started out as a business task force for the beautification of Pioneer Avenue.

Homer’s Chamber of Commerce is ready to begin the city’s 2024 fifth annual peony celebration.

The July celebration includes tours of local peony farms, art showcases, peony-themed offerings at local eateries, public flower craft workshops and peony organized gift displays at local businesses, including the Homer Book Store, North Wind Home Collection, Oodalolly and more.

The event started out as a business task force for the beautification of Pioneer Avenue that included the Art Shop Gallery, the Pratt Museum and the Homer Chamber of Commerce. At that time, a few peony gardens had already been planted at businesses along Pioneer Avenue. The city was starting to talk about some standardization of tours, signs and benches, according to Jan Knutson, visitor center director and member liaison at the chamber.

When the pandemic hit, “we were looking for everything you could do outdoors, going out on charters, hiking, whatever. One of the things that the peony task force had talked about was having festival and this seemed like the perfect time to start it,” she said.

One of the first people who assisted Knutson in coordinating was Rita Jo Schoultz, owner of Alaska Perfect Peony, one of the oldest and largest peony farms in Alaska. In the first year, the event was primarily based around touring four local farms: Alaska Perfect Peony, Scenic Place Peonies, Diamond Ridge Peonies and Alaska Beauty Peony, a cooperative farm. There will also be on-call private agricultural tours available at the Anchor Point Greenhouse and agricultural tours at the Pratt Museum.

Knutson said the cooperative farm has also received some special grants to produce peony soap, salts and tea. Information on those products can be found on their website at alaskabeautypeony.com.

That website also offers the opportunity to purchase the flowers on a subscription basis.

On Friday, July 5, Grace Ridge Brewery will host a peony artist show with Jen Depesa and peony-inspired beer on tap for the month of July. Ptarmigan Arts Co-Op will hold a botanical and peony-themed weekend showcase the first weekend of July. Each year of the event watercolor artist Barbara Lavallee has provided a peony-inspired painting. A show and signing with the artist will occur on Saturday, July 13 at the Art Shop Gallery on Pioneer Avenue.

Several art workshops will be available at various costs provided at the Homer Council on the Arts Studio and Scenic Place Peonies.

More specific details on cost and location for each of the events will be listed in the event calendar that is scheduled to come out this week and available for pick-up at Homer Chamber of Commerce, the celebration headquarters.

Peonies have become a unique economic driver for Homer in recent years. In 2017, Mayor Bryan Zak first proclaimed Homer as the “City of Peonies.”

“On an economic development standpoint, these farms are a growing industry in the state of Alaska and Homer in particular.

“The peonies in the Lower 48 bloom in June. They’re smaller and they don’t bloom as long as they do in Alaska. Ours start later in Alaska, and the flowers are bigger,” Knutson said.

One of the major exports is to florists in the Lower 48 because of marriages scheduled in the summer months. Knutson said that Schoultz is now exporting her products to Thailand and Japan, as well.

Knutson noted that former President Carter his wife Rosalyn celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with an order of Homer peonies.

This year’s sponsors include, among others, First National Bank, North Rim Bank, Berkshire Hathaway, Kachemak Real Estate and Horizon. Nomar is also an in-kind sponsor by providing tote bags with the Homer Peony logo attached to them, available for $30 at the chamber, the Art Shop Gallery and Bunnell.

Funds from the bags support planting and maintenance of the gardens on Pioneer Avenue. Two other chamber employees have contributed substantial efforts to coordination: Mina Gherman, marketing director, and Silas Firth, membership coordinator.

The Rotary Club has also contracted to sell flower bouquets in the chamber yard Friday, Saturdays and Sundays throughout July.

Flowers will also be available in a self-serve cooler from the cooperative at there town location: 1435 Lakeshore Drive, available to purchase by cash, check or Venmo.

Other items available through the chamber are complimentary bookmarks and postcards.

To learn more about additional art workshops, tours and full schedule of celebration events visit the chamber website at https://www.homeralaska.org/events/homer-peony-celebration/.

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