This year's Woodford County Woman's Club spring garden tour traverses gorgeous rural Bluegrass byways from one end of the county to the other. Rain or shine, the May 30 tour will open eight garden gates to reveal a diversity of plantings and innovative and fascinating landscape settings.
From the ruins of an early bourbon distillery's limestone walls, to a hidden waterfall connecting huge koi ponds beneath a canopy of fir and Japanese maple, and the Colonial Williamsburg-style charm of an in-town carriage house, there is a wealth of garden delights to discover.
Tour committee member Cynthia Fordon describes their task: "It's a treasure hunt, really," she says. "We get tips from other gardeners, and ask visitors to give suggestions as well. We also do a lot of peeking over fences."
Among stops listed on the tour are a Thoroughbred horse farm that received an award of merit from the Perennial Plant Association in 2014, a large farm garden with vegetable plantings and a walkable labyrinth, and a pioneer homestead built in 1794.
The project raises funds to support the Woodford County Coats and Shoes for Kids Project and other local charities.
Here's a sneak preview of three tour gardens:
Hidden waterfall garden
Although Susan Bradley and Buzz Daugherty's five-acre garden on McCowan's Ferry Road is only 18 years old, it sets the mood of a centuries-old Zen retreat, with rich colors and textures of mature Japanese maple trees and home-grown specialty conifers.
"I see the garden as part of the living environment," Bradley says, adding that she wanted a garden that could not be seen in its entirety without the experience of walking through it.
Two large-scale koi ponds — one with an island — are joined by a waterfall.
"We started with just two koi," she says. Now the ponds are full of them. She finds the larger pond sizes easier to maintain, as the greater volume buffers the effect of the many changes that occur.
Bradley has planned the gardens in a style she calls "eclectic," with whimsical features like very real-looking Design Toscano animal figures. Don't let the black panther startle you.
The couple does all the work. She's the mastermind, and he's the steady labor, with a large farm tractor as a sidekick. Landscaping rocks are sourced from a neighbor's tobacco field, and many evergreens are grown from four-inch seedlings in the couple's greenhouse, which also holds some delightfully fanciful miniature garden scenes in large pots.
"It allows me to create and design things," Bradley says. "My idea of a vacation is to be without a phone."
The Ruin: McCracken Pike bed and breakfast
The drive from Versailles to The Ruin on McCracken Pike traces the picturesque meandering of Glenns Creek, along which distilleries were built in the 1800s to take advantage of the aquifer's limestone-filtered waters.
Ron and Elise Wallace have built a contemporary home inside a shell of the ruined walls known as Glenn Spring Distillery. The bed and breakfast (Theruinbnb.com) is attached by a breezeway. Dating back to 1840, the distillery is thought to have employed James Crow before he moved on to what is now Woodford Reserve. Limestone walls were re-pointed and stabilized, and, with the landscape design expertise of John Michler of Lexington, quasi-formal gardens beside the home are being extended into the surrounding grassy meadows.
Native plants and grasses enrich this pollinator-friendly habitat. A walking path surrounds the property first along the creek, then along an abandoned railroad bed. The smells here are delicious, from the sweet meadow and the fragrance of clove pinks in the gardens, to Elise Wallace's breakfast sausages cooking for guests.
Both the gardens and this home are open during the tour. It's a study in re-use of sturdy materials.
"It there was anything around, we used it," says Ron Wallace. Even the wooden scaffolding torn down after construction was repurposed into an arched front door.
Wide log slabs from an original 1700s log cabin located on what used to be Hopewell Farm near Pisgah and Old Frankfort Pikes, and beams salvaged on-site were incorporated into an open design to echo The Ruin's rustic origins.
"I like light and air, so everything is windows and more windows that we're able to open up," says Ron Wallace. "We rarely need to use air conditioning."
He credits craftsman Phil Gerrow of Midway as the creative force behind the completion of the home in 2014; Wilmes Architects designed the rooms and guest house.
Montgomery Avenue cottage and carriage house
Bob and Marian Foley are Versailles natives with lives centered around Montgomery Avenue, where both were raised. Their cottage sits back off the street, down a lane by a 1900s carriage house that once belonged to Foley's grandfather in horse-and-buggy days. It's now a comfortable garden shed, with room to sit and relax. An antique horse-drawn winter sled helps set the scene; at the entrance, a metal watering trough makes a small sunken pond.
The surrounding meticulously kept gardens are sectioned into intimate rooms and nooks with boxwood and evergreen walls, enhanced by statuary and accented with pink and yellow begonia blooms. From Pan with his flute to engraved marble headstones of a pet cemetery, the collections are charming. A shady brick patio lined with hostas sits under towering pines from which bird feeders are hung.