Horse Park landscaping shows native, historical Kentucky

Visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park for the FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games will probably be overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding them. The place has been spruced up for the Games, and handsome horses will be everywhere.

Fortunately for area residents, many of the horticultural touches at the park will be around long after the international event is finished.

You'll notice the first such touch at the park's main gatehouse. A dry-laid stone wall and gate has been built to welcome visitors in classic Kentucky style. The structure was built by a team of certified masons from the Dry Stone Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and building dry-laid stone structures while training people in the craft. These skilled artisans prepared, dressed and laid stone obtained from the park itself.

Completed in August, the gate is surrounded by beds that park landscape manager Mac Jeffs and his crew have filled with native grasses and wildflowers, including the state flower, the goldenrod. The new limestone walls echo the many miles of rock fences lining pikes and lanes built along Central Kentucky's farmlands more than a century ago.

"The feature is a traditional Kentucky stone entrance that you would have encountered in the early to mid-19th century," said Chris Harp, executive director of the Dry Stone Conservancy.

Farther into the park, along the stream bank of Cane Run Creek, is another uniquely Kentucky project, aimed at improving water quality by establishing a riparian buffer zone with native wildflowers, grasses and trees.

Brochures are available at the site and list suggested specimens for planting, and they discuss best practices for managing water quality around equine pastures.

"We hope visitors to the park will see this as a demonstration of what they can do on their own property to protect streams and improve water quality," said Fayette County Cooperative Extension water quality liaison Amanda Abnee Gumbert, whose mission includes improving riparian buffer zones in the entire Cane Run watershed.

Of special interest to horse owners with land along waterways, this is a way to find practical, sustainable and ecologically sound solutions to better shelter wildlife, prevent erosion and retain storm water where it's needed, while filtering out pollutants.

But this planting — completed in May — is more than simply functional: it's a work of ecological art. Instead of an open pasture cut straight to the waterway, a "no mow" zone now holds a charming array of brightly colored native wildflower blossoms: deep pink echinacea, orange cone flower, spikes of great blue lobelia and white Joe Pye weed, all magnets for thousands of butterflies, moths and other insects. White swamp oak and bald cypress will offer shade to the area.

The project is a partnership supported by the park, the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture's Cane Run Watershed Project, M2D Designers and the Bluegrass Partnership for a Green Community.

An entirely different sort of planting, tucked in behind plank fencing, is the Governor's Garden, which can be found in the yard next to the park's historical farmhouse.

One of seven vegetable gardens around the state begun in an initiative by Kentucky's first lady Jane Beshear to promote home and community gardens, it calls attention to the benefits of growing and eating healthy food close to home. Other Governor's Gardens can be found in Frankfort, Hazard, Florence, Paducah, Bowling Green and the state fairgrounds at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

Student volunteers from the Scott County High School Future Farmers of America chapter are maintaining the Kentucky Horse Park garden, and during the equestrian events, chefs participating in James Beard Foundation celebrity chef dinners will have access to the produce grown there.

"To have the opportunity to promote gardening on a world stage like the World Equestrian Games is an ideal way to show that Kentucky is committed to good health and reducing our carbon footprint," Beshear said. "Premier chefs from all over the United States will be impressed while cooking with vegetables grown right here in the Bluegrass; a secret our local chefs already know."