Ronnie Nolan's front-yard garden at 516 Henry Clay Boulevard goes to prove, once again, that good things come in small packages.
The postage stamp-size garden pops with color — orange, yellow, red, pink and blue flowers — brightening his stretch of the busy city thoroughfare.
Pedestrians frequently pause on their evening walks to admire Nolan's handiwork and chat with him when he is out pulling weeds or watering.
"I love that community connection the garden has created," he said.
Nolan is one of 27 first-place winners in the 2014 Lexington in Bloom, a beautification contest organized by the Lexington Council Garden Clubs. He won in the category for amateur-designed residential gardens in his area of the city.
More than 200 gardens were nominated in a variety of categories including residential gardens by amateur gardeners (like Nolan), and by professional designers, large and small business gardens and a miscellaneous category.
The miscellaneous division was expanded this year to include vegetable gardens, rooftop gardens, Monarch butterfly and community gardens, small displays like window boxes, neighborhood entrances and gardens in very small spaces like the devil's strip between the sidewalk and curb.
All gardens had to be visible from the street.
The city was divided into quadrants with a winner and sometimes runners-up and honorable mentions in each category in each category.
Winners were announced last week, and a Lexington in Bloom sign was placed in all first-place gardens for easy identification.
Nolan had no gardening experience when he bought his house seven years ago. Even after picking up a Lexington in Bloom first-place he said, "I still don't think of myself as a gardener. I'm just a guy who likes to piddle in his yard."
He is director of the Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children, an organization that ensures children in the custody of the state receive quality educational services.
The house was in dire condition and the yard was even worse, he said. Except for a dogwood tree and an azalea, the front yard was a blank slate, lacking even a driveway or sidewalk.
Nolan didn't draw up a plan, but planted from his heart.
"Everything out there are things I love and remind me of flowers I loved growing up in a holler in Whitley County," Nolan said.
He has daylilies, weigela, creeping phlox, veronica (speedwell), Knockout roses, hostas, vinca and salvia.
Nolan and his friend John Rowell hauled rock from an abandoned quarry in Nonesuch to build rock walls around three raised beds. Then, Nolan added some whimsical touches like a gnome under a clump of Asiatic lilies, a small wind chime and a stone shaped like the state of Kentucky from his mother's farm.
Lexington in Bloom judges thought Nolan's effort was charming, said Elizabeth Pattengill, contest chairwoman.
"We had a wonderful selection of gardens this year," she said.
The Klausing Group, a landscape contracting firm on Cahill Drive, near McConnell Springs, was selected a small business winner for its green roof.
The vegetative roof on the front porch of the Klausing building is planted with perennial flowers and ornamental grasses. It was one of several initiatives undertaken by owner Roscoe Klausing to improve the quality of stormwater runoff from his company's land.
Town Branch Bourbon distillery on Cross Street tied with Klausing for first place in the small business category for their zone.
The butterfly garden at 37 Richmond Avenue, owned by Yoko Kusonose, was designed by Beate Popkin, owner of Living Gardens and president of Wild Ones, an organization that advocates the preservation of native plants.
Winning in the community garden category was a collaborative school garden at 125 North Hanover by children attending Temple Adath Israel and Ashland Elementary. Another community garden winner was the Lexington Women's Recognition Garden at Wellington Park.
The contest encourages community spirit and civic pride, said Linda Ransdell, president of the Lexington Council Garden Clubs. "We hope people drive around and see the winning gardens and get ideas they take back home and try in their own yards," she said.
The Lexington in Bloom contest began in 1992 and has been held every two years, except for a hiatus from 2002 to 2010, when it was brought back.
In alternate years, the local garden club council partners with the Kentucky Council of Garden Clubs for a house and garden tour.