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Plant Fever

This time of year a curious type of fever hits many Kentuckians. The only relief comes from getting your hands in the dirt. It’s spring fever, of course, brought on by short tastes of the warm weather and sunshine after a long cold winter.

A visit to a nursery is often the first line of defense, so we thought we would help this year by providing you with some information to make your trip more productive.

“Everyone gets so excited every year,” says Robin Lee, who owns Lee’s Garden Center in Hodgenville with her husband, Scott. “We recommend the proven winners. These are the best of the best plants that have been introduced. They are easier for the gardener to handle, and they don’t have to worry as much about killing them.”

In business for more than 10 years, Lee is typical of good nursery owners in her desire to see people succeed and her attitude toward service. “If you buy something and have questions or problems, you can come back,” she says. “We will be here.”

This year, she thinks the Ruby Red coreopsis will be popular. The coreopsis is an airy plant that blooms everywhere, like little butterflies. They come in yellow, pink, and red. The New Wave petunias–with new varieties and new colors, including red and white–will also be popular, she believes. They were bred to a different variety and improved from last year’s Wave petunias.

In Louisville, Jim and Mary Wallitsch own Wallitsch Nursery & Garden Center Inc., and Jim serves as the 2003 president of the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association. They say that customers will be looking for “unusual plants and hot colors–something that really pops in the garden.”

“There is a trend toward more perennials because they are enduring and don’t have to be replanted every year,” Jim Wallitsch says. “Annuals will be accent plants. Perennials cost more in the short run, but you end up paying less over the long term.”

And with perennials, there is always something new coming out. In fact, you’ll find more than 700 varieties of perennials at the Wallitsch Nursery.

This year look for echinacea (coneflowers), particularly the brand new Ruby Giant, which sports a purple flower that is 5 inches across with a black seed head. There is also a new variety called Prairie Frost, which has a pink flower with variegated leaves.

You may also want some heuchera (coral bells) in a new color called Amber Waves that has pink flowers and a small, lime-green leaf. Monarda (bee balm) will also be popular, particularly the Raspberry Wine variety.

“Container gardening using combinations of perennials, annuals, shrubs, and ornamental shrubs is really catching on,” Mary Wallitsch says. “You can have unique combinations. It also gives you more interest to have a tall ornamental grass waving in the wind and petunias spilling out of the box.”

Farther west in Benton, Matt Wyatt, vice president of Wyatt Farms, offers educational seminars on topics of interest to consumers, as do many of the better nurseries. Topics can include basics such as how to grow roses, annuals, and perennials, to more specialized matters such as butterfly gardens.

Wyatt Farms actually began as a roadside market in the early ’70s and has grown into a retail and wholesale business.

“What differentiates us is our knowledge,” says Wyatt. “When people ask what is going to do well in a certain situation, we know. Maybe you go and buy the same plant at a larger store, but when you take it home it may not do as well. Often it is not the plant’s fault or the homeowner’s fault. It is just a matter of not knowing the right conditions for the plant. We try to help people have that knowledge so they will have success.”

Wyatt’s favorite is the Juddi viburnum, a woody shrub with a fragrant white flower. He also recommends drought-tolerant plants such as vinca, lantana, and purslane, since Kentucky has experienced droughts for the past several years.

Whatever your taste in plants and your needs, a good nursery can help you make the right selection, so don’t be shy about asking questions.


Dr. Robert McNiel, Extension specialist for nursery and landscape with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, offers six tips for consumers when choosing a nursery:

Price: In many instances, the lowest priced plants are not the best quality or the best suited for the area. If you are buying on price, McNiel says you may be disappointed. Don’t use price as your primary consideration.

Service: There should be well-trained people who can answer questions accurately. Also look for certification. In Kentucky, look for the KCN (Kentucky Certified Nurseryman) designation from the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association.

Variety: A good nursery will have a broader spectrum of plant species. You may also want to consider nurseries that specialize in the kinds of plants you are looking for, such as plants native to Kentucky or more unusual varieties.

Quality: In shrubs, look for smaller and denser plants. For bedding plants, look for plants that are compact and sturdy rather than leggy with vigorous growth: poor temperature control in a greenhouse leads to extreme growth in plants and they become floppy. Also look for a dark-green color in the foliage with no broken pieces or disease. The dark-green color indicates proper fertilization.

Suitability: Good nursery employees will have an appreciation of what plant material does best in the area. There are also some Cooperative Extension publications available at no cost on a variety of topics, such as annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Contact your county Extension agent.

Facility: Finally, consider the shop itself. Is it clean and well-maintained? If so, the plants probably are as well. Ease of shopping and location may also play a role in your selection of a nursery just as it does with other shopping.

Walking on the Wild Side at



Kentucky does not have a public garden.

That thought struck Brucie Beard and Mary Ann Tobin as they toured the public gardens of Europe in the mid-1980s. Tobin was just completing her term as state auditor of public accounts and Bruce Beard had served as her office manager and public relations counsel. Both were casting about for a change and decided to establish a display garden in Kentucky.

Today, Broadmoor Gardens, Conservatory and Wildlife Sanctuary is a 10-acre paradise containing an array of gardens, including gardens dedicated to roses, iris, Oriental lilies, and perennials. Visitors enter through a 19th-century cut-stone, hand-forged wrought-iron entryway originally from the Chateau de Maupertuis in the medieval village of Provins, France. Once inside, they discover 250,000 spring flowering bulbs, a two-mile wildflower trail, a historic Kentucky native grass prairie, an English garden, a pastel garden, a water garden, and an all-white moon garden. Swans, peacocks, deer, possums, raccoons, hawks, and owls also call the gardens home.

Located an hour from Louisville on the edge of Meade and Breckinridge counties, the grounds also include an indoor conservatory with tropical plants, indoor pools, and waterfalls. The gardens are open for viewing from April through October. They are also available for weddings, receptions, conferences, and retreats.

What you won’t see are many tulips. Two seasons ago, Beard and Tobin set out 50,000 tulip bulbs. In the spring, they had only 500 blooms. The deer not only dug up the bulbs and ate them, but added insult to injury by making their beds in the wood chips that covered the beds.

Admission for the gardens is $12 for adults, with discounts for seniors and groups. While reservations are not required, they are requested. The gardens are located on U.S. Hwy. 60, 50 miles southwest of Louisville and 35 miles northwest of Elizabethtown. Call (270) 547-4200 or go online at for more information.

Click here to find a list of Kentucky Garden Nurseries.

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