Ten great gardens, planted with colorful ideas and well rooted in down-to-earth growing know-how, are on the Lexington Council Garden Club's Open Gates to Bluegrass Living tour next weekend, June 1 and 2.
City bungalows, historic homes, suburban ranches and a country estate offer diverse garden styles, and the gardeners themselves are ready to share a wealth of experience.
Proceeds from the tour are used to fund community grants for garden-oriented nonprofit organizations and college scholarships in horticulture or related areas. The tour is offered every other year, alternating with Lexington Beautiful, a contest for Fayette county residents and businesses to showcase and be recognized for their own gardens. A few tour stops
■ Near Walton Avenue in the Morningside neighborhood, you will recognize Esther Hurlburt's home by the patchwork of cottage garden color in the front-yard beds, which have been evolving for 27 years: a spring mélange of orange poppies, pink columbine, white and yellow iris, and blue love-in-a-mist. A slender side garden is lined with tall fragrant lilies and pots of herbs hanging along a fence, and the backyard is planted with vegetables and berries.
At an annual "tall lilies" summer cookout with friends, a different vegetable takes center stage each year. Purple cabbage, for instance, received great reviews in a carrot cake recipe, but the martinis got a thumbs-down for flavor, despite their vibrant purple glow. Sculptures scattered throughout the gardens, including an iron tree with rebar branches and Ale-8-One caps for leaves, created by Kyle Cleaver, and the silhouette of a crowing rooster atop a fence post add interest when highlighted with ice and snow in winter.
■ At master gardener Susan Umberger's home just off of Lansdowne Drive, you can discover some excellent cultivation techniques. Raised beds with hoop covers not only mitigate temperature fluctuations for early-season vegetables like lettuce, they also keep rabbits, birds and chipmunks from nibbling at the produce. She also has the best tomato support cages, sturdy and collapsible for winter storage, made by Texas Tomato Cages. Potted herbs hang on lattice just outside the kitchen door. Fig, service berry and peach trees provide attractive, edible shrubbery, and a special orchid greenhouse will be open during the tour.
■ The drive to John Saunders' Copper Beech Farm in eastern Fayette County will take you through ever-expanding subdivisions to the edge of land that reflects our rural heritage. In the 1980s, Saunders built a home on cleared land that was once a strawberry patch, then he began to plant trees.
"I wanted a grand plan," Saunders says. He asked landscape architect Horst Schach to draw up plans for plantings that would afford privacy and beauty. Now mature trees fill the landscape: massive Norway spruce and Douglas Fir, and uncommon specimens including a golden oriental spruce, a forest-fragrant white concolor fir, and deciduous trees including tricolor and copper beech, a massive black gum and lindens. The view across spacious lawns encompasses a pool, a Zen garden and a gazebo. Foliage color in shades of grey, green, blue, silver and yellow are both tranquil and uplifting. The combination of color, texture and form is simply awesome. Saunders' childhood home on Shady Lane backed up to a field that is now part of The Arboretum on Alumni Drive. He carried a bit of that vision with him as he built his own arboretum at Copper Beech Farm.
IF YOU GO
Open Gates to Bluegrass Living Garden Tour
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 1, 1—5 p.m. June 2
Where: Self-guided, 10 locations. Informational brochures with maps are provided as tickets. Go to Lexgardenclubs.org or call (859) 276-3641 for more information and ticket sale venues.
Cost: $12 in advance; $15 day of the tour
10 quick thoughts from tour gardeners
Want to know more? Stop and visit with these tour gardeners for details.
Gardening requires patience. "Seems like we're always waiting to see how plants will grow, live or die. Then we move them, and wait again," says Susan Umberger, who has lots of hints that might save you time.
Grow your own vegetables. After 40 years of raising edibles like lima beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and more in his city garden, John Dicken says, "I do it for fun." It's not cheaper, but it is great to savor and share fresh vegetables. Electric fencing and neighborhood cats keep away scavenging urban critters; manure and compost have improved the garden soil.
Choose plants wisely. Plan ahead for success. Janet and Michael Braun advise researching and making plant selections which are well suited to your particular garden location. Put the right plant in the right place.
The garden is an outdoor sanctuary. Esther Hurlburt would rather dig a post hole outside than vacuum indoors, and sees her garden as an open space sanctuary. Garden work is a misnomer, she says and observes, "It's more like play."
Gardens change and evolve. "There is always something different in a garden," says Marta Ferguson. Spring is exciting, when plants pop up that you've forgotten were there. Gardening is a fun process, where you can experiment planting new things to see how they work.
Get personal. Shelby Reynolds and David Bartley collaborated to design their home landscape to suit their personal preferences and needs. Reynolds says, "We've created our own little paradise." There are comfortable decks for spending time with friends, a hot tub for relaxing, and some spaces with Asian influence where bonsai is showcased.
Anticipate opportunities. Visiting gardens, networking and collecting ideas can prepare you to act when opportunities arise. When historic Botherum was offered for sale, garden designer Jon Carloftis and partner Dale Fisher found the chance they'd been waiting for to own it, and are now restoring the home and garden.
Busy lifestyle? Go low-maintenance. Debbie Long, owner of the downtown restaurant Dudley's on Short, lives a very busy life, but relaxes while enjoying views of her home garden. This year, urns overflowing with asparagus and bird's nest ferns, along with white impatiens and coleus are some of her easy-care choices.
Preserve treasures. Learn about the history of garden treasures in your neighborhood. Matt Carter and Brent Bruner have a large Sycamore tree in their yard, said to have been planted by Henry Clay's family, as well as some of their home's original stone walls.
Cherish childhood memories. John Saunders grew up on Shady Lane, in a home which then bordered a large field that has become The Arboretum. His mother, Vee Saunders, was an avid gardener. Those influences took hold. As an adult, he has developed his own arboretum in rural Fayette County, transforming vacant pastures into a horticultural wonderland.
What garden heritage will your children cherish?
About the presenter
The Lexington Council Garden Clubs, organized in 1956, is an umbrella organization affiliated with the National Garden Club, Inc. It is comprised of members from seven local garden clubs: Down to Earth, Fayette Rose and Garden, Gardenside Green Thumb, Hoe 'n Hope, the Lexington Woman's Club Garden Department, Rafinesque and Soil Mates. Club members represent gardening interests in civic organizations like the LFUCG Tree Board and the Corridors Commission, the Arboretum, and at Raven Run.
"The larger the number, the bigger the voice," past president Liz Pattengill says. "You get to know other gardeners. It's a lot of fun, too."
Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: Gardening.bloginky.com.