Homer Peony Celebration begins this week

With many large or indoor events canceled this year due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, Homer has still found a way to celebrate one of its prettiest and most important resources: peonies.

The inaugural Homer Peony Celebration kicks off on Friday and lasts through Saturday, July 25. Organized by a task force dedicated to celebrating peonies in Homer, and marketed by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, the two-week long celebration will feature outdoor peony farm tours, a self-guided tour of the peonies along Pioneer Avenue, peony-themed art classes and art showcases, and, basically, all things peony.

The celebration has been a long time coming, explained Chamber Visitor Center Director Jan Knutson. She and and several other community members have been part of a Pioneer Revitalization Task Force that was set up four years ago to tackle the idea of beautifying Pioneer Avenue. That kicked off the first peony-related project — local businesses got involved in a funding matching program to have murals painted on their buildings. Then, Knutson said four of the major area peony farms donated bulbs to be planted along Pioneer Avenue.

Those voluminous blooms are now in their third or fourth year, Knutson said.

“So they’re really blossoming at their fullest,” she said.

In 2017, then-Mayor Bryan Zak declared the City of Homer as the City of Peonies. Also that year, celebrating Homer’s peony farming industry was the theme of the chamber-hosted July Fourth parade.

It’s been a longtime dream among members of the task force to have a peony festival, Knutson said. With the situation such as it is this summer, with COVID-19 still spreading across Alaska, the task force sculpted a two-week event that focuses on outdoor activities where people can maintain social distancing.

Peonies are more than just pretty to look at. They represent a corner of the market that Alaska has, well, cornered, in terms of exports. The growing season for peonies in Alaska does not align with that of growers in the Lower 48, so there’s a chunk of time each year when Alaska has a monopoly on the peony market.

The first ever peony farm in Alaska was started just outside of Homer — Rita Jo Shoultz still owns and operates Alaska Perfect Peony on her family homestead in Fritz Creek. Now, the Homer area has 25 peony farms.

Highlighting their importance to the Homer economy is part of the reason behind the Peony Celebration, Knutson said.

“In terms of economic development, it’s just huge,” she said of the industry.

To celebrate, several area farms, including Alaska Perfect Peony, will host farm tours throughout the two-week span. Also hosting tours will be Joslyn Peonies LLC on Diamond Ridge.

“I’m so excited to showcase Peonies in and around Homer,” Shoultz said in a press release from the chamber. “Everyone has a favorite peony memory from their wedding day bouquet (the number one flower preferred by brides and the second most popular flower in the world) to their grandmother’s garden filled with peonies.”

On the artsy side of things, the Homer Council on the Arts will host a series of workshops taught by local artists. The projects will range from using dye made out of peonies on silk scarves to making peony bouquets out of paper crafting. The arts council also sponsored a peony poster contest, with winning art published in today’s Homer News.

The Art Shop Gallery’s featured local artist will be Dan Coe, who will be joined by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee to showcase their original peony-themed paintings and prints.

For more information about the farm tours, to register for an art workshop, or for more information about the celebration in general, visit the chamber’s website at homeralaska.org. Or, call the chamber at 907-235-7740. Those interested can also pick up a print copy of the celebration schedule of events from the visitor center in town.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.