Local peonies grace Obama hotel suite

Though President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to Alaska this week didn’t bring him to the lower Kenai Peninsula, he got a scent of Homer when local flower grower Alaska Perfect Peony was picked to provide the official presidential bouquet at his Anchorage hotel, the Captain Cook.

“It was pretty exciting,” Alaska Perfect Peony owner Rita Jo Shoultz said on Tuesday. “It was quite the honor.”

Shoultz credited Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with setting up the floral arrangement. Last year, Shoultz did a short video with Murkowski on Alaska’s growing peony agriculture industry. Murkowski helped arrange for Shoultz and her flowers to get clearance from the Secret Service.

Shoultz drove to Anchorage last Friday with a 32-flower bouquet as well as a backup batch. She delivered the flowers to Murkowski who handed them off to the Secret Service. The peonies had been kept five weeks in refrigerated coolers.

“It was one of those indestructible bouquets because I knew it would to go through several hands,” Shoultz said. “These peonies are just phenomenal.”

The focus of Obama’s trip was to raise awareness of climate change. Obama spoke Monday at the GLACIER conference in Anchorage, an international meeting on climate change issues. In remarks, Obama said, “Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record — just as it was for the rest of the world. And the impacts here are very real.”

That’s a change Shoultz said she’s experienced first hand. Shoultz said her business has already felt the impacts of warmer summers. As in 2014, this summer her peonies began blooming 19 days earlier than in previous years. She started cutting on June 23. Shoultz had to install a 40-foot cooler this summer to keep peonies fresh.

“Climate change is definitely affecting our business,” Shoultz said. “It doesn’t look like it’s correcting itself in the near future, so we’re trying to adapt.”

With Obama’s bouquet, Shoultz included brochures on Alaska Perfect Peony, the Alaska peony business and stickers showing her peonies came from an American certified grower. Shoultz has made a pitch to the Obama administration to use American certified flowers in the White House.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.