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Grayson’s Wildflower Man

For several years now travelers and local residents alike have stopped to admire Grayson’s flower show.
A myriad of wildflowers–red, yellow, and purple blooms in varied stages of growth–adorns the roadways and city parks, thanks to the passion of gardening hobbyist C.W. Stevens.

When Stevens retired from a fire-brick manufacturing firm, he moved from town to the flat country outside Grayson. He plowed two acres and planted a melon patch and rows of vegetables–sweet corn, cabbage, green beans, okra, zucchini, and head lettuce.

Then, six years ago, a Wildseed Farms catalog came in the mail. As Stevens flipped through its pages, he noticed photographs of people admiring the bright wildflowers that adorned their yards and gardens.
“Heck, I can do better than that,” he told his wife, Ginny.

Stevens ordered wildflower seeds and planted them in eight 8 x 125-foot beds. That spring passing motorists spotted the kaleidoscopic blooms on the sloping bank behind his house. Word spread through the eastern Kentucky community of 7,500, and residents came out to view Stevens’ colorful landscape. They walked in his yard until trails appeared amid the display of maroon and yellow coreopsis, yellow tickseed, scarlet flax, and the purple lupine.

Soon the Grayson Chamber of Commerce, on which Stevens served as executive secretary, decided to beautify the entire town. In 1998 it bought 100 pounds of seed in half-pound packages for $2,600, and volunteers showcased the wildflowers in prominent areas.

Stevens says the project not only visually enhanced the community, but Grayson leaders were also pleased that the wildflowers needed little mowing or watering.

The next year, the Chamber’s Tourism Commission donated enough seed to the state highway department for seeding of wildflowers on I-64, which goes through Grayson. Interest in the wildflowers grew as more and more motorists saw the multi-colored display that stretched 1/4 mile on both sides of town. Soon the nearby half-mile C.W. Stevens Boulevard (named in honor of Stevens by Cook Family Foods, which owned the land around the street) was also embroidered with bright red and gold poppies and other annuals.

Stevens, 83, admits that he never dreamed of planting wildflowers until he was inspired by the mail-order catalog. He was more surprised at the attention his home gardens received from passersby.

“My parents told me that every crop will grow well in our bluegrass area,” Stevens explains. “Of course my experience was limited to vegetables, but I still expected lots of pretty flowers and I wasn’t surprised at how incredible the yard looked.”

For several years, Stevens has been passing his gardening methods on to his two grandsons, Drew and Alex Johnson, who help till and break up sod for the gardens. Last year they trimmed the vegetable garden with red sunflowers.

The result is landscaping that explodes with color from May through September. After some yearly reseeding (certain types of wildflowers produce their own seeds for the next planting season), Stevens’ beds become once again mixed blends of about 40 varieties, including corn poppies, coneflowers, yarrow, Indian blanket, cosmos, dame’s rocket, and primroses.

Although Stevens considers himself a “home gardener,” his interest reaches beyond his own flower beds. When the Kentucky Highway Department destroyed wildflowers last year during a rehab project of I-64, Stevens requested that they reseed two 500 x 10-foot-wide plots and the area under the refurbished bridge for Exit 172. This year he organized a group of Grayson leaders to petition the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which has delayed beautification because of budget limitations.

“Shucks,” says Stevens. “Folks in Grayson will pay for the seeds again if it comes to that.”

Recently, Stevens became part of a five-county operation that seeks to boost the economy by building sites for commercial and industrial enterprises. As vice chairman of the Industrial Park Authority, Stevens knew just what to do to help sell the sites on East Park’s 1,000 acres: he planted meadows of mixed wildflowers,of course.

C. W. Stevens’ wildflower tips

1. Choose a site that drains well and has eight hours of direct sunlight.

2. Buy 1/4 lb. of seeds per 500 square feet.

3. Till no deeper than 1″ after you have removed any remaining loose grass, leaves, and twigs.

4. Use a seed spreader. Then walk or roll over the field to press the seeds no deeper than 1/16 of an inch.

Where to see Grayson’s wildflowers

This year the wildflowers around Grayson are expected to begin blooming in June. You’ll be able to see them on both sides of I-64 near Exit 172, and along C.W. Stevens Boulevard. To get to C.W. Stevens Boulevard go north off I-64, onto Railroad St./ KY 1 and KY 7. Turn right and follow the wildflowers 1/2 mile to the industrial complex. Another display is planned for Grayson Lake State Park about 10 miles from town, off Exit 172 onto KY 7 South.

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