Small town festivals are a staple American tradition. From the celebration of food, music, and a variety of other traditions, you will likely find something unique in every region. The Annual Homer Peony Celebration in Homer, Alaska is no exception. Taking place on July 8-30 and running stronger than ever with its third consecutive year, this festival celebrates–you guessed it–peonies!
This year’s celebration features farms–Alaska Perfect Peony, Alaska Beauty Peony Co-Op, and Scenic Place Peonies. The idea started when Rita Jo Shoultz of Alaska Perfect Peony planted peonies on Pioneer Avenue and various other places throughout the town of Homer. “I had a passion for peonies and I wanted to share it,” Rita said. The local community enjoyed it, and eventually, the mayor declared “Homer the City of Peonies.” From there, the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center expressed interest in starting a festival, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Homer Peony Celebration began in 2020 during a time when most events were either canceled, postponed, or virtual. The outdoor-focused activities allowed for the celebration to take place in a safer environment, and it’s only grown since then. Each farm offers something for everyone, from tours, to food experiences, and even artistic activities.
Beth Van Sandt of Scenic Place Peonies said her farm will offer walking tours through their fields. The tour entails an overview of the farm, a walk-through the packhouse, a view of the cooler where peonies are stored (from the outside), and a walk-through of the high tunnel. Scenic Place Peonies’ tours are offered Monday through Thursday. They start at 2:00 pm each day, and depending on the number of people on the tour, can vary in length between an hour and hour and a half. At the end of the tour, each guest will walk away with a bouquet of flowers. Tours are $25 per person.
This year, Scenic Place Peonies is offering another unique activity, Fleur De Paeonia, a botanical couture on mannequins. This floral retreat will include 12 florists traveling to Homer from the lower 48 states to create their design on the coutures. On Friday, July 22, from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm, these designs will be on display to the public at Bear Creek Winery. Guests will be able to walk through the gardens of the winery and view the designs and vote for their favorite. The winning designers will be presented with a basket with food, beverages and other items from local businesses.
Rachel Lord, a local florist with Alaska Stems will offer a workshop at Scenic Place Peonies. She will do a floral workshop on the evening of July 14. Twelve participants will be able to take part in the workshop and walk away with a beautiful peony design, or a design from other flowers grown at the farm.
Alaska Beauty Peony Co-op will also offer tours. The two-hour tour will be offered on Saturdays from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The tour will start out at the packhouse, and participants will take a bus up to the farm for a walking tour. Then, participants will return to the packhouse and be taken through the process of bunching and packaging flowers, and see the facilities there. At the conclusion of the tour, participants will get a beer or non-alcoholic beverage from Homer Brewing Co. and leave with a bouquet of flowers. Participants also have the option to buy food from the Bento Box food truck. Tours are $75 per person.
Alaska Beauty Peony Co-op will offer a variety of peony items for sale through the month of July, such as bath salts, pottery, and handcrafted peony truffles and bonbons with a flower infused ganache and dusting of dried petals (the truffles and bonbons are a collaboration with the Homer Truffle Company).
Alaska Perfect Peony offers a tour of their botanical gardens and fields, a bouquet-making demonstration, and the opportunity to take home a bare root or a plant. Tours are around an hour and a half long, charge $75 per person and are offered on Tuesdays starting at 6:30 pm and Friday mornings at 11am. You are also welcome to bring lunch to enjoy by the lake at their farm. You can sign up for one of their tours here.
No matter which tour(s) visitors attend, all three farms advise that guests wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and prepare for a lot of walking!
With so much happening, it’s no surprise that many tourists from the lower 48 states make a trip to Homer to join the fun. “It’s turned into an economic driver [for the local community],” Beth said. “People call the Homer Chamber of Commerce way in advance so they can plan their vacation around it.” And according to Rita Jo, the Homer Peony Festival is often visited by all types of outdoor adventurers as well, including fishers, kayakers and bear viewers. “It’s not just about peonies anymore, it’s Homer, Alaska that’s really benefiting from the celebration,” Rita Jo said.
If you can’t make it to Alaska this year, make sure to mark your calendar for next year’s celebration. You do not want to miss this unique immersive “all things peony” experience.
None of these festivities would be possible without cooperation from the volunteers, the chamber of commerce and local community. Many locals come to volunteer. If you want to immerse yourself in peony farming and be part of the experience, YOU can volunteer. Contact each farm directly to inquire about opportunities. Commitments to each farm range from a minimum of three weeks to one month.
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