If you can’t capture the splendor of the season in your backyard, try visiting some of the area’s public gardens
“Gardens… should be like lovely, well-shaped girls: all curves, secret corners, unexpected deviations, seductive surprises and then still more curves.”
– H.E. Bates, A Love of Flowers
Gardening remains a delightful mystery for me. I love everything about it, from plunging my hands deep into the warm moist soil to the challenging art of garden design. Yet with all the money I have spent on pots of impatiens that turned yellow just as guests were arriving and trellises built for clematis that preferred to frolic on the ground … well, we could be living on a 46-foot sailboat in the British Virgin Islands.
One alternative is to seek out other people’s gardens, from which we can draw inspiration and enjoyment. Public gardens can offer that quick respite from a busy day at the office, provide running around space for those wild banshees we call our children, and give us eternal hope that one day we too might have green thumbs.
Below is a selection of urban gardens in central Kentucky that are open to the public. Keep this list handy for a cheap date or when guests are in town and you really can’t sit and reminisce a minute longer. All locations are in Lexington, unless otherwise noted.
One hundred acres of gardens, green space and walking paths, celebrating the spirit of volunteerism and your tax dollar at work.
500 Alumni Dr.
Open daily, dawn to dusk
Beyond the parking area lies the Dorothea Smith Oatts Visitation Center and the start of the developed garden areas. The horticultural gardens include the rose, herb and vegetable gardens; the All-American trials and displays; fruit and nut plantings; and a variety of hardscapes (gazebos, pergolas, stone fences, ponds and so forth). This part of the Arboretum is loaded with great ideas that can be scaled down to fit your backyard.
A two-mile paved trail wraps around the perimeter of the park, and is a popular place for walkers, joggers and baby strollers. Various spurs off the main trail showcase the seven geophysical regions of Kentucky, and an additional half-mile trail wanders through the Arboretum woods, loaded with chattering squirrels and invasive honeysuckle.
Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate
Sitting on what once were the outskirts of Lexington, Ashland provides an urban oasis of mature trees and a formal boxwood garden.
120 Sycamore Rd.
Grounds are open daily, sunrise to sunset; the formal garden is open when the house is open for tours.
Ashland is the perfect destination for a quiet stroll to shake off the stressors of the day. A wood chip path winds its way around the property, past the historic home, and through the peony gardens. The formal parterre boxwood garden based on early French design is gorgeous. Add a relaxing lunch at the Gingko Tree Café (located on the brick patio around the old smokehouse) or a tour of the home, and your blood pressure will drop 10 points.
Most people know of Henry Clay as the “Great Compromiser” and his prolific political career. Fewer Lexingtonians know that Clay is also credited with introducing Hereford cattle to this country and the mint julep to Washington, DC. Although the land the house sits on is only a fraction of the original estate, the property has retained its stately air in a gracious nod to its first owner.
Over 170 acres of floral displays, 200 tree species, fountain, and koi ponds, keeping company those who have been laid to rest.
833 W. Main St.