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Monet would want to paint this garden

In Lexington's Wyndham Downs subdivision, Gretchen Young describes the back-yard garden of neighbor Jeff Dodge by saying, "It looks like a Monet painting."

The wide beds that line three sides of the yard are filled with more than 200 German bearded irises. The range of hues creates a complete petal palette, reflecting the origin of the flower's name, the Greek goddess Iris, who is portrayed as a rainbow.

At first glance while walking through Dodge's garden gate, the effect is breathtaking. Neighborhood friends stroll by regularly to sneak a peek at what's blooming. " I couldn't have asked for a better neighbor," Young says.

Dodge, who has expanded his garden gradually for about 18 years, has been involved in horticulture all his life. When he was a child in May's Lick, his grandmother Opal Dodge introduced him to the joy of gardening. He has a bachelor's degree in horticulture from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the industry ever since, spending some time at Dreisbach Wholesale Florists and now at Kreations by Karen, a retail florist.

"I knew very early on that I loved plants and flowers, and wanted to do something in the gardening field," Dodge says.

He is the moving force in planting the subdivision entrance, which has Knockout roses blooming on four corners. His garden is filled with flowers that bloom from February until frost, beginning with early daffodils, then iris, day lilies and rebloomers. He gets his plants from local shops and online sellers.

Dodge recommends iris hybridizer Zebra Gardens (www.zebrairis.com), which offers plants with brightly speckled petals with fun and funky names like Squid Squirt and Beary Beary. Dodge also likes Schreiner's Iris Gardens (www.schreinersgardens.com), a hybridizer since 1925.

Local organizations, such as the Bluegrass Iris Society, offer information about plants and have sales and exchanges among members. A regional Web site for the Kentucky and Tennessee area is www.aisregion7.org/Membership.htm.

Dodge keeps name tags close to his plants and has a map of garden plantings because, when the plants finish blooming, they can be difficult to identify. After about three years, the rhizome cluster will have expanded to a sizable cluster that puts on a magnificent bloom show.

For more information, check out the Inside/Out & About blog at Kentucky.com. You'll find photos from the 2009 International Iris Competition in Florence, Italy, and a review of The Iris Family by Peter Goldblatt and John C. Manning (Timber Press, $80).

Children's library garden opens

It's easy to hear the excitement in Carol Sexton's voice when she describes the new children's garden at the Pulaski County Public Library in Somerset.

"The whole community has embraced it," says Sexton, the children's services librarian.

About 400 people were on hand when butterflies were released during the May 15 opening ceremony, she said. The garden is supported by volunteers from the Pulaski County Cooperative Extension's Master Gardeners and local Eagle Scouts, as well as community donations and grants.

What's on the one-acre plot? Lots of topiary was planted, including a mare and a colt by a four-plank fence; "Nessie," a friendly Loch Ness monster; and a cat, a kangaroo, a snail and a monkey. Reading Rita, a woman made of flower pots, is there, and so are brightly painted rain barrels and worms used as part of a vermicomposting project to recycle the library's food waste. There are even bird, bat and butterfly houses and feeders, a paleontology pit for digging, an herb wheel and many native Kentucky plantings.

"Reading is at the core of all library programs, and the garden is the framework that allows learning to go beyond the pages of a book," Sexton says.

The garden is open during library hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Gala in the Garden at The Arboretum

The annual Gala in the Garden will be 4 to 7 p.m. June 7 at The Arboretum, 500 Alumni Drive.

In keeping with The Arboretum's Kentucky-heritage theme this year, new Native American, pioneer, Victorian-era, World War II victory and self-sustaining gardens are being planted.

If strolling the gardens in your summer finery while chatting with other garden enthusiasts isn't enough, then consider the entertainment, which will include performances by Brother Barrett, the Appalachian Association of Sacred Harp Singers, the Lexington Traditional Dance Society and Dulcimer Dames. A buffet dinner will be catered by DaRae and Friends.

At the live auction, you can bid for the right to name the 2009 rose developed by Tim Phillips; a catered dinner under the stars for 24 at The Arboretum; a progressive dinner through three local gardens; a corporate box for 16 at Keeneland on Oct. 14, donated by Toyota; and a catered tailgate party in The Arboretum parking lot for the 2009 UK/U of L football game. Silent auction items include artwork from Cross Gate Gallery, Jon Carloftis birdhouses and $1,000 worth of landscape design work from Joseph Hillenmeyer.

Why is Friends of the Arboretum working so hard to make this event a success? The proceeds will be dedicated to The Arboretum's Children's Garden fund, which is a work in progress.

Gala admission is $50, $30 for those younger than 35. For tickets and information, call (859) 257-6955.

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