I know you’re busy; I am, too. We all have deadlines and responsibilities. There is never enough time to get everything done.
But you will be cheating yourself if you don’t make time, even a few minutes, to savor some of the magical, fleeting moments of Kentucky’s most beautiful season.
I always know winter is ending when I see spring beauties — those tiny white and pink wildflowers — popping up on lawns in my neighborhood. At places such as Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, they create vast, creamy carpets.
Spring beauties are picky. They don’t like builders who bury topsoil or property owners obsessed with perfect, chemically enhanced turf. They also are like many things in life; they never last for long. One day spring beauties are glorious, the next day they’re fading. But violets will follow soon behind them.
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This spring, the weather has been especially kind to flowering trees. The purple magnolias in the courtyard of my church were stunning for Palm Sunday. Redbuds and flowering crabs just popped out. Bradford pears are showing off like giant cotton balls, daring March gusts to shatter their branches. (Arborists call them “wind candy” for a reason.)
Some of the city’s most spectacular flowering trees, including weeping cherries, are on display at Lexington Cemetery amid the stone monuments to our most famous and infamous citizens. The cemetery has been managed as a botanical wonderland almost since it was created in 1849 from a grove of ancient trees.
If you bring a camera, the best time to visit the cemetery is an hour after the gates open at 8 a.m. or an hour before they close at 5 p.m. Everything looks better in golden light. I grew up thinking National Geographic photographers must take long afternoon naps, because I rarely saw a picture taken at mid-day in the magazine.
The 100-acre Arboretum at the University of Kentucky, the state’s official botanical garden, is a wonderful place to walk in spring, as is Henry Clay’s 17-acre Ashland Estate. Find time for a drive in the country or, better yet, a bike ride.
If you want to see Kentucky spring in its most natural glory, go for a hike in one of the nature preserves along the creeks feeding into the Kentucky River Palisades. Many native wildflowers are tiny and delicate. But when you find them, they are as colorful as their names: phlox, trillium, rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches.
Public trails are open daily at Raven Run Nature Preserve in Fayette County, Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve in Clark County and the Nature Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve in Garrard County.
Lower Howard’s Creek has guided wildflower hikes scheduled April 2, 9 and 16. Private tours also are available. (Information: Lowerhowardscreek.org). Floracliff Nature Sanctuary near Clays Ferry also has guided hikes. Reservations are required. (Information: Floracliff.org.)
Botanist Julian Campbell, a leading authority on native Kentucky plants, leads occasional wildflower hikes along the Palisades for a limited number of participants. He prefers those willing to spend some time that day helping him cut and spray invasive Asian honeysuckle that is rapidly choking out native species. For more information, email Campbell at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you aren’t up to hiking, Mathews Garden is a century-old plot of native plants at the corner of South Limestone and Washington streets. The garden is a pleasant oasis on UK’s campus, but its future is uncertain.
Keeneland is another spring botanical wonder, cleverly disguised as a racetrack. The forsythia will have peaked before the spring racing meet begins April 8, but the dogwoods should make up for it.
Keeneland has the added benefit of housing some of the finest specimens of nature’s most beautiful animal, the horse. There are few better places to spend a spring afternoon than the Keeneland grandstand.
I also like early mornings at Keeneland, just after the sun has risen. The day is fresh and horses are being exercised under the watchful eyes of owners and trainers. Before leaving to begin my workday, I always make time for coffee, eggs and biscuits at the Track Kitchen.
A Kentucky spring doesn’t last long, so enjoy it while you can. Life’s deadlines and responsibilities will still be there when it’s over.