Every August in Wheat Ridge there’s a community shindig for a few thousand of the city’s closest friends.
The party, The Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival, is nearing the half-century mark – and is one of the longest running festivals in Colorado. The festival derives its name from the post-World War II period when Wheat Ridge was home to a thriving carnation industry. The last carnation grower in Wheat Ridge phased out their operation in 2008.
The event has changed and grown, but has always been a free locally driven and family-friendly event. In 2016, there were around 30,000 attendees at Anderson Park. Now a three-day festival, it attracts residents and visitors from around the state.
The festival is and has been a long-time of supporter of many local Wheat Ridge focused nonprofits, service clubs, as well as student and senior organizations. All monies generated by the festival go to these local entities or back into the costs of the festival itself.
The festival is a registered nonprofit with the state and is managed and ran by a board of Wheat Ridge volunteers.
The city of Wheat Ridge was incorporated and officially become a city on Aug. 15, 1969. In honor of the city’s birthday, the area’s agricultural history (the Wheat Ridge High School sports teams are the Farmers) and carnation production, a festival was born.
The carnation flower has its own lengthy history. The scientific/Latin name is Dianthus Caryophyllus, which translates into Flower of Zeus or Flower of the Gods. The carnation is one of the world’s oldest cultivars. It’s first mentioned in ancient Greek literature, as growing on hillsides.
Colorado’s abundant sunshine made for a near-perfect place to grow carnations. Carnations need ample sunlight. Wheat Ridge is close to Denver and provided the needed space for greenhouses.
In the 1960s, the city had 32 different carnation growers and sent flowers to the White House every Monday morning. The bouquet was displayed in the front foyer with a card stating: “With compliments to our nation’s capital, Wheat Ridge Colorado, Carnation City,” per the Wheat Ridge Historical Society.
The city’s moniker as being the “Carnation City,” prompted a group of people to organize an official agricultural and floricultural weekend celebration. Thus, the Carnation Festival and Parade become an annual tradition, first held on 38th Avenue.
The parade remains on 38th Avenue, with a brief hiatus to 44th Avenue at one point. The parade over the years has featured floats with mounds of carnations from the local growers. The greenhouses are gone, but the connections to the past remain. The world now receives its carnations primarily from South America.
The festival itself has had a few sites since the beginning, until finding its present home at Anderson Park.
Like so many traditions, occasions and festivals, finding the exact origins of the festival and historical specifics are as steeped in unknowns as the carnation flower itself. So many of the city’s founders and festival originators have passed – but their legacy continues.