Boone County Garden Club adds special touch to Turfway’s Jeff Ruby Steaks’ floral winner’s blanket

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

The Boone County Garden Club embraced enthusiastically their annual task for the recent Jeff Ruby Steaks qualifying race, to add to its premiere status as precursor to the ultimate race, the Kentucky Derby.

Jeff Ruby has sponsored the race — formerly the Spiral Stakes — since 2018, featuring his signature colors of purple and gold for the winner’s flower blanket and all throughout the Turfway Racing facility.

And it’s the Boone County Garden Club that brings the flower blanket to reality.

Garden Club members with the blanket of carnations they sewed for the winner of Turfway’s Jeff Ruby Steaks

The club has been in existence since 1947 and became part of the Garden Club of Kentucky in 1952. Because they are a local garden club, organizers of the qualifying race in March asked the club to hand-sew fresh flowers onto the winning horse’s blanket, for presentation in the winner’s circle after the race.

“When they first started sewing the flowers onto the blanket, it was daffodils, but they weren’t very hardy, and they didn’t last,” said Sharon Burcham who has been part of the club for 30 years and president for the last 2 years.

“By the time I joined, they had switched to chrysanthemums, and they were better, but now we sew on carnations, in purple and white and gold, and they are very hardy.”

She noted that at the end of the race, when the blanket is on the horse, the tradition is for the jockey to grab a handful of the flowers and throw them in the air.

Donna Repenning is the treasurer of the club, and she said it was her fourth year to sew the flowers on the blanket.

Winning Jockey Jareth Loveberry, aboard Two Phil’s, throws handfuls of flowers in the air

“We sew each flower onto the burlap,” she said. “There are 350 carnations, in purple and white. We cut each flower with about a 1 1/2 inch stem, and then put the needle through the stem. Then we mist it and put the whole blanket in the beer cooler.”

She said only so many people can stand around the table that holds the flower blanket, and it is painstaking work, so the members take turns in shifts sewing, and then working on the other arrangements.

In previous years, Repenning told about how the Garden Club would put together flower displays in vases and stage them throughout the Turfway Park building, but now that the building has been completely redone, they now create larger arrangements that sit in pots on the floor and are magnificently beautiful.

Burcham also said they plant purple and gold pansies by the winners circle, and the owners also receive an arm bouquet each.

The Boone County Garden club is busy all year round. The flower blanket for the Jeff Ruby Steaks is only one of the good deeds the organization takes on.

“Every month we do a floral arrangement for a hospice patient in a nursing home,” said Repenning. “We work with Bluegrass Care Navigators, who help us decide which hospice patient to give the flowers to, and the local Krogers who donate their unsold flowers to us in big bundles. We receive vases from various donations, and then we make the arrangements and give it to the patients. Flowers always raise the spirits of the patients.”

The Boone Garden Club’s artistry was present throughout the Turfway facility

She remembered that back in October of last year, the club went to StoryPoint Senior Living home, located beside the Union Krogers, and helped residents to make notecards with pressed flowers.

Another time the club brought small unstuffed pillows, about a foot square, that one member sewed on three sides, and other club members stuffed them, finished sewing them, and delivered them to StoryPoint.

Most of the 56 members are retired, and they are able to devote more time to the club’s activities.

“We meet on the second Tuesday of the month, and we usually have speakers on a broad range of topics and interests, or we do projects,” said Burcham. “In April we will have a talk on pruning, and we will be building blue bird houses. Recently we had a talk on stopping water pollution, and another talk about invasive plants that are native to the area. There are so many other aspects to the club.”

She related how in March they went to the regional meeting of the Garden Club of Kentucky, and the Boone County club won 8 awards.

The Boone County Garden Club also has beautiful displays at the Boone County Fair, held every year at the fairgrounds. Any resident can submit arrangements and displays, which the club takes care of through the judging, which usually occurs on a Thursday morning, and then the owners can pick them up.

Although the club members are predominantly female, the husbands of the members usually help out. They have had male members in the past, and this year they have a new male member, Michael White, who like most new members, brings some new energy into the club.

This year, the club is bringing back the Garden Tour, which they haven’t had in 20 years. The Garden Tour will be held on June 24 and will include several gardens in the area.

The Garden Club is active on Facebook.

The Turfway Park Racing and Gaming thanked the club for creating the beautiful flower blanket for the Jeff Ruby Steaks winner.

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