The Garland

I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s the first weekend of May, and that means just one thing: the Kentucky Derby a.k.a The Run for the Roses a.k.a the greatest two minutes in sports.

I am not a sports fan and not a horse racing fan – I can’t stand it that each year a horse’s fragile leg will break and the beautiful animal will have to be put down. Not each year at the Derby, but each year during racing season.

That said, it’s exciting times here. There have been festivities for two weeks now – parties (think women in BIG HATS),

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gatherings, alternative races (including the very alternative Run for the Rosé, as in wine.) local waiters and waitresses have to run a half-mile obstacle course carrying a tray holding six glasses of wine and not spill a drop.

But back to the Run for the Roses.

For the last twenty-eight years, the Garland of Roses, a beautiful garland 122 inches long and 22 inches wide, has been custom made not in a fancy florist shop but in a local Kroger grocery store. I found the Kroger was located just a few miles down the street, so I decided to go watch it being made.

Mob scene!

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Hundreds of people streamed into and out of Kroger to watch the garland being made. They lined up for group and individual photos. The place was truly jammed.

I saw one harried worker and said, “Whew!” to her.

She nearly growled. “This is my fifth straight day.”

And it’s almost over.”

She grinned.

The first thing I noticed was the store was specially decorated for the event.

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Also, right at the entryway were craftspeople selling Derby items.

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But the garland.

It takes over 450 roses to make the garland. Each rose is in its own vial of water and is hand-sewn into the garland. The roses are bordered by greenery.

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The backing is a forest green material with the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Great Seal embroidered at one end and the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs embroidered at the other end of the fabric.

In the garland’s center is a crown of roses, and each corner of the finished piece is decorated with red ribbons. Below is a replica of the finished garland.

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It takes eighty hours of prep work and then a team works another ten to twelve hours on Derby Eve assembling the garland. Those of us who came to watch were given some rose petals, too, from roses that hadn’t made the final cut.

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Only perfect roses are stitched into the garland.

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Shortly before the race, a special van carries the Garland of Roses to Churchill Downs with a full police escort.

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At the end of the race, the winning horse (and the lap of the jockey) is draped with the beautiful garland.

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