Home & Garden

Admire extraordinary gardens

For 18 years, the Garden Conservancy has been dedicated to ”preserving America's exceptional gardens.“ In the 18 years since it was founded, members across the country have worked to conserve gardens that might otherwise have been lost.

Ongoing preservation projects, like those at the Alcatraz Garden in San Francisco, and Yew Dell Gardens in Crestwood, are just two examples of many that can be glimpsed in the photo slide show at www.gardenconservancy.org.

The conservancy also organizes ”open days“ throughout the season, in which regional private gardens open their gates to the public for a peek at what's ordinarily hidden from view.

There is a self-guided tour of five gardens in and around Louisville scheduled for June 14. Included this year are Running Water Farm, which is a 35-acre garden of outdoor rooms, including an Elizabethan-style viewing mound with a spiral walkway and a sunken garden graced by a wisteria-covered pergola.

Also on the tour, a one-acre stumpery that showcases luxurious ferns, wildflowers and woodland ground covers at the Hardy Fern Foundation's display garden at the Ralph Archer Woodland Garden at Whitehall.

You can find all the details at the 2008 Open Garden listing on the Conservancy's Web site. General admission tickets are available at each garden for $5.

Members receive discounts.

Estate gardens blooming

It's that time of year again: The peonies at Henry Clay's Ashland Estate on Richmond Road are filling the air with their sweet perfume, and the landscape is dotted with enormous mops of pink, purple and white flowers.

Treat yourself to an hour's retreat over lunch or an evening stroll to soak up the spring atmosphere.

The estate gardens are maintained faithfully by the Garden Club of Lexington, which is a member of the Garden Club of America. You know them also as the folks who produce the Bluegrass Winners cookbooks, the proceeds from which are used to support the gardens.

The peony beds were established in 1986 thanks to the gift of an extensive collection of Saunders hybrids from the garden of former member Alice Prewitt.

At the time, peony expert Roy Klehm, whose family business was the commercial source for many of the peony varieties, was called in to help identify the specimens.

If you're tempted to try growing some peonies closer to home, check out Klehm's Web site at www.songsparrow.com, where there are some interesting new specimens, like the miniature Elfin Beauty, which works well in rock gardens.

"Pest' quite beautiful

If you've driven along highways in the southern part of Kentucky lately, you might have noticed some fairly tall trees covered with large, lavender flowers blooming in clusters, growing wildly along stream banks.

Most likely what you saw was Paulownia tomentosa, commonly called royal paulownia or the princess or empress tree.

There is even one beautiful specimen ensconced on the banks of a pond in the Lexington Cemetery, but it generally hasn't taken hold this far north yet, probably because of our colder temperatures in unprotected areas.

Some advertisements tout the miraculous growth the tree exhibits (up to 15 feet per year) and its readiness to take hold and produce great shade on even unforgiving ground. Why wouldn't anyone want one? Exquisitely sumptuous as the royal flowers may be, it is also an exotic, invasive species originally from China, and is listed on the Kentucky Exotic Pest Plant Council's ”significant threat“ list.

Spread by wind and water, the seeds disperse easily along streams, establish shallow root systems and grow quickly.

Paulownia is a lesson in ecology, and a plant which exhibits both promise and problems. For now, it's one to keep an eye on.

Local gardens gain fame

Better Homes and Gardens publishes a number of special-edition magazines in the summer, covering topics such as container gardens, water features and outdoor rooms.

This year, the magazine features garden rooms on Ashland Avenue, at the home of Debbie and Tony Chamblin, highlighting three porches and a sun room.

The Chamblins, who own both Belle Maison Antiques and Trillium, shared their home for a photo story that was produced by Jon Carloftis last July.

There is some lovely shell art created by Ron Meece of Lexington. Boxes, frames and sconces can be seen at their shop in downtown Lexington.

Call for information: (859) 252-9030.