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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Two Rosy Anniversaries

Shreveport's American Rose Center turns 50 this year and Churchhill Downs marks the 150th anniversary of the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby.

american rose center shreveport
Shreveport's American Rose Center

There are two rosy reasons to celebrate this spring.

The American Rose Center (ARC), the headquarters of the American Rose Society, will open its 118-acre Shreveport, La., gardens for its 50th blooming season today, April 3, 2024. The Center will have numerous special events to celebrate with details on its website or ARC Facebook page. Spring events at the nation's largest garden dedicated to roses will run from mid-April to mid-May during the peak spring bloom. 

The first garden event will be viewing the total solar eclipse around lunchtime on Monday, April 8, 2024.

Recently ARC has added more roses, trees and other flowering plants throughout the property, roughly 6,000 rose plants and 5,000 other plants including ornamental trees. 

"If you haven't visited the rose garden in some time, then you are in for a new experience," said Executive Director Claire Bissell. "Our Great Garden Restoration is complete. The five-year, two-million-dollar project has transformed the gardens with circles that tell the story of the history of the rose in America.

"It’s a great place for a morning walk for you and your friends, including canines," Bissell added. "Our renovations will continue this year as we refresh and refurbish garden structures and features."

Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the gardens is $5 per person or $10 per family.

Peak rose bloom season is expected between mid-April and mid-May. 

churchhill downs

Churchhill Downs in Louisville celebrates 150 years of The Kentucky Derby on May 4 this year, an annual race of three-year-old Thoroughbreds who travel a distance of 1 1⁄4 miles around the track.

But it's so much more. It's the first stop on the Triple Crown—the rest being the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the highest honors in American horse racing. Louisville hosts a month of events and there are numerous races leading up to May 4. And, of course, there's the unified singing of "My Ole Kentucky Home" right before the Run for the Roses.

churchhill downs museum

Where did it get that name?

Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark watched in 1883 as New York City socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to women at a post-Derby party. It inspired Clark to make roses the official flower of the annual race. In 1896, a garland of roses was draped over the Derby winner along with the trophy and the tradition began. Today, the horse receives a garland of 400 roses sewn into a satin background that includes the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the twin spires of Churchhill Downs. The jockey receives a collection of roses as well.

And then there's popular music.

Vocalist Dan Fogelberg composed the song "Run for the Roses" for ABC Sports, to be released in time for 1980's Kentucky Derby. You can learn more about the song, and hear Fogelburg sing it live on his Youtube channel.

If you go

Churchhill Downs in Louisville also houses a museum, gift shop and restaurant that’s open throughout the year and offers guided tours of the facility outside of race days. Two historic Louisville hotels make for wonderful spots to regroup after races, the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, where F. Scott Fitzgerald got inspired to write "The Great Gatsby" and included the hotel in the book, and The Brown Hotel, where I've had the pleasure of enjoying one of the finest bourbon Old Fashioneds.

Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel journalist Cheré Dastugue Coen who recently visited Churchhill Downs (not during Derby time) and enjoyed the museum and tour of the historic property. She once lived in Louisville and cherishes her memories of watching horse racing at the famous racetrack. She couldn't resist shooting a selfie.

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