Home & Garden

Jon Carloftis' new book celebrates Kentucky gardens

Garden designer Jon Carloftis came up with the idea for his new book, Beautiful Gardens of Kentucky (Canal House Publishing, $50), pretty much by accident five years ago, when his house and garden in Bucks County, Pa., were photographed for an article in Martha Stewart Living magazine.

The Rockcastle County native told the Martha Stewart crew that Kentucky gardens were seldom photographed for national magazines.

They told him to scout out Kentucky gardens and send them some ideas. He visited 40 gardens and recommended 10. They picked one.

"I realized, 'Oh, my gosh. I saw so many beautiful gardens. People need to see these,'" he said. So he took matters into his own hands, and his latest book offers a peek into 21 Kentucky gardens.

To make the cut, a garden "had to be beautiful, have some clever ideas," Carloftis said.

Clever ideas include the circular terraces in the postage stamp-size garden of Lois Ann Polan on Victory Avenue, or the two grass gardens on Sissy Nash's Longview Farm in Oldham County. Or the sculpture in Nancy Barron's courtyard in downtown Lexington, which includes a pair of stainless steel giraffes by sculptor Dan Arpin.

A few are so extensive, "We could have devoted an entire book to them, instead of a chapter," Carloftis said. There's the over-the-top formal garden of Antony and Angela Beck on Gainesway Farm, the Thoroughbred farm established in the early 1960s by John Gaines.

The Beck garden, influenced by English gardens, has a white garden, an apple orchard, a vegetable and flower garden, and a shade garden. One section is divided into quadrants, and in each quadrant are miniature boxwood, planted in the shape of a giant fleur-de-lis.

The 336-page book, with 500 photographs, includes five gardens designed by Carloftis. Photography is by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Susan Smith-Durisek, a free-lance garden writer for the Herald-Leader, and Kathleen Brennan contributed to the writing and editing.

Most of those pictured are private gardens. Five are open to the public. They include the Carloftis family home in Livingston, where Jon's mother, Lucille, runs the Rockcastle River Trading Co. garden store.

Carloftis graduated from the University of Kentucky. He is a frequent contributor to magazines including Southern Living, Better Homes & Gardens, and Country Living, and he is a sought-after speaker.

Carloftis didn't want Beautiful Gardens to look like "every other garden book, just filled with June gardens," he said.

He and the photographers captured the seasons, which is the main reason it took 21/2 years to shoot the photos. "I wanted to have a nice balance of all four seasons," he said.

He learned the value of four-season gardening after he started creating rooftop gardens, and his clients had the same view of their gardens 365 days year. "You have to have the structure, the bones. That's the beautiful part in the winter," Carloftis said. "In the summer, flowers are a bonus."

Several winter photographs were shot at Ashland, the Henry Clay estate.

His favorite garden? Carloftis loves the rustic quality of Sissy Nash's garden. His "dream garden" is the carefree city garden of Madonna and Craig Turner on South Ashland Avenue, where "you can swim every day and you don't own a lawn mower."