A Passion for Peonies
Inaugural Indiana Peony Festival Coming Up May 22
Writer / Ria Rebein
Noblesville resident and Kit publisher Kelly McVey discovered her love of peonies 13 years ago. She and her sisters, Carla Crask and Kari Nickander Perry, had set out to farm annuals and perennials on a 10-acre plot in Cicero, Indiana. The experiment went south when the sisters couldn’t agree on what to plant — but not before they fell in love with one flower in particular: the peony.
“I didn’t know much about the peony, our state flower,” Kelly says. “I thought of peonies as a grandma flower.” But she quickly learned about the perennial’s historical significance, diversity, hardiness and beauty, not to mention its thousands of varieties, which she could look forward to reappearing in her garden every year.
Kelly filled her garden with peonies and started hosting “peony parties,” where friends and family would gather to assemble bouquets and celebrate the state flower every May. One year her family sold peonies at the Noblesville Farmers Market, where she met fellow peony lovers: The flower always seemed to remind people of their mother, their aunt or someone special in their life.
All this got Kelly thinking: ‘Why don’t we celebrate our state flower more, especially in May, when thousands flock to Indiana for the Indianapolis 500?’
“I used to preach this to everyone I knew!” Kelly says.
A Flourishing Friendship
Kelly had long wanted to share her passion for peonies in a more meaningful and far-reaching way. One spring, while driving to a women’s event, she couldn’t stop thinking about peonies.
She arrived at the Starkey Entrepreneurial Woman Award (SEWA) Luncheon to discover a bouquet of peonies as the centerpiece and a peony farmer seated next to her. Pamela Parker of JP Parker Flowers won the SEWA award that day, and Kelly and Pam became instant friends. The two chatted about Kelly’s dream of hosting a local peony festival.
“We were immediate soulmates and best friends because of our love of peonies,” Pam says.
The next year, when giving a speech at the SEWA awards, Pam spoke the festival into existence.
“I talked about so many good things had happened in the past year, like meeting Kelly McVey and sharing our love of peonies,” she says. “I said it in my speech: We’re going to have a peony festival!”
Thanks to Pam’s encouragement and their connection, the festival began to take shape.
One of the most exciting things about the peony festival is the way that the Hamilton County community came together to support the idea.
In 2019, one of Kelly’s friends, Esther Lakes, was on a planning committee to renovate Seminary Park in downtown Noblesville.
“She said that she wanted to plant peonies — and I wanted to get involved!” Kelly says.
Esther, the former owner of Noblesville’s Smith’s Jewelers, supported Kelly’s vision. Brandon Bennett of the Noblesville Parks Department was also on board and agreed to purchase 150 peonies to get the project underway.
“Two years ago, on a cold blustery day in November, I was honored to be part of Kelly’s planting brigade, planting over 150 peonies in Seminary Park,” Esther says.
The location would become the home of the First Annual Indiana Peony Festival.
Once the Noblesville Parks Department agreed to the location at Seminary Park and planted the first peonies there, the seed of the idea for a festival took root. The City of Noblesville signed on as a sponsor, and Noblesville Main Street collaborated by planning the festival and engaging the downtown community. Peony farmers and small businesses across the state have also jumped in and gotten involved. The date is set: Indiana’s First Annual Peony Festival will be held at Seminary Park on May 22, 2021, from 11 a.m to 4 p.m.
The mission of the festival is twofold: to celebrate the Indiana state flower, and to raise money to build peony gardens throughout Hamilton County, and then throughout Indiana through community beautification projects.
“Indiana can become a destination to see these peony gardens,” Kelly says. “I want people to know that peonies are so much more than the pink, white and red — there are so many gorgeous colors and varieties. There’s so much to know and love about our state flower.”