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Kentucky’s historic gardens 

Planted in the past, flourishing in the present 

Kentucky’s historic gardens span the generations, delighting visitors with their vibrant blooms and abundant vegetables, while rooting them in the past. 

Adsmore Museum 

Built in 1857, the home at Adsmore Museum was acquired in 1900 by the Smith-Garrett family, prominent Caldwell County residents. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Adsmore reflects the lifestyle of the Smith-Garretts at the close of the Victorian era and the dawn of the Edwardian era. Today, costumed docents give guided tours of the home.  

Outdoors, the grounds and gardens surrounding Adsmore are maintained to complement the museum. They feature plantings—yews, a climbing rose bush, mock orange and more—that are original to the Smith-Garrett family 

The azaleas that surround the front of the house and the multiple peonies in the gardens are among the guests’ favorite flowers, Adsmore Administrator Wayne G. Yates. There are also historic garden elements.  

“We are proud of the large iron urns in the side yards and the iron crane planters in the backyard, as both are original to the Smith-Garrett family,” Yates says. 

In keeping with Adsmore’s gardening tradition, a new Edwardian-era garden is currently being established between the carriage house and the main house. It will be laid out in four quadrants with a central feature and will incorporate old-fashioned lilac, bridal veil spirea and English boxwood. Antique wrought iron fencing will define the corners.  

A new garden, laid out in four quadrants with a central feature, will reflect the Edwardian era at the Adsmore Museum. Photo: Adsmore Museum 

From now through August, Adsmore features The Engagement and Wedding. “The house and grounds will be staged for the 1907 engagement and wedding of Miss Selina Smith and John Eugene Osborne, third governor of Wyoming,” Yates explains. “Selina is a daughter of the original owner, John Parker Smith, eventually becoming a co-owner with her sister Mayme Smith Garrett and brother-in-law Robert Garrett.” 

Liberty Hall Historic Site 

Overlooking the limestone palisades of the Kentucky River in Frankfort is Liberty Hall, a home constructed from 1796 to 1800 by one of the commonwealth’s earliest legislators—U.S. Sen. John Brown, and wife Margaretta Mason Brown. But it’s the 4 acres of grounds— complete with a formal four-square, brick-lined garden flourishing with shrubs, trees and flowers—that executive director Jessica Dawkins calls “the star of the show.”  

Many of those  plants are native Kentucky species that historically would have been grown by the Brown family “One of the most amazing things is that it’s been tended since 1800,” Dawkins says. “Some plants have obviously changed, but it’s been maintained, first by the Brown family and then as a museum by Kentucky’s Colonial Dames, for 224 years.”  

The garden at Liberty Hall in Frankfort, which incorporates a formal four-square shape, has been tended for 224 years. Photo: Liberty Hall Historic Site 

Now a designated National Historic Landmark, the two-centuries-old garden has been open to the public since 1937. 

Visitors can explore the different gardens on the grounds, including Euphemia’s Butterfly Garden, an official monarch waystation that supports butterflies and other pollinating insects. Mother’s Garden is a native-Kentucky woodland garden honoring mother figures and Mother Earth. An original smokehouse, cistern and two historic sundials complement the grounds.  

Garden curator Isabel Cochran says Liberty Hall, as the capital city’s largest public garden, provides a space for guests to enjoy Frankfort’s natural beauty. 

“Our mission,” she says, “is to interpret the history of the land, the people who lived here, both the Browns and the enslaved, and the natural history and indigenous history of the site.” 

Riverview at Hobson Grove Historic House Museum 

Imagine strolling the peaceful, picturesque grounds of a Civil War-era home near the banks of the Barren River. Guests can do just that at Riverview at Hobson Grove Historic House Museum in Bowling Green.  

Back in 1857, Atwood Hobson began building the home that was originally part of a 400-acre thoroughbred horse farm, the only one in southcentral Kentucky at the time. The home wasn’t completed until 1872. “It took so long after the war to complete because everyone in Bowling Green, they were all vying for the same building materials,” explains Brooke Westcott Peterson, executive director.  

Today, visitors can tour Hobson’s home and explore its grounds. On the back lawn, surrounded by rose bushes and vibrant annuals and perennials, is the garden’s main feature—part of the original 1800s fountain once located in downtown Bowling Green’s Fountain Square.  

Peterson describes the gardens as a perfect, elegant complement to the home. She says it’s easy to imagine why Hobson would have wanted to build his home in what was then the countryside.  

“We’re kind of off the beaten path,” she says. “And we invite people to come, bring their families, and have a picnic.” 

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill 

Nestled in Mercer County’s rolling landscape, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill—the largest National Historic Landmark in the state and the nation’s third largest Shaker community from 1805 to 1910—boasts 3,000 acres for guests to discover. 

The grounds are home to 34 original Shaker structures, some featuring overnight lodging. In addition to taking in tours, special events and more, visitors can follow in the farming footsteps of Shaker tradition. Sustainable agricultural initiatives implemented by the Shakers are still utilized today.  

“Our garden is certified organic, and our farm team practices companion planting and crop rotation techniques to enrich soil nutrients and reduce pest problems,” explains Shelby Jones, senior director of marketing. 

The garden is even rooted in the original location where the Shakers once tended their vegetables—the East Family garden. Heirloom crop varieties the Shakers grew, like French Breakfast Radish, Waltham Butternut Squash and Early Jersey Cabbage abound, along with tomatoes, potatoes, beans and much more. 

Conveniently, just steps away from the garden is The Trustees’ Table, a restaurant where the historic garden’s seasonal produce is served. Jones calls it a true “seed-to-table” dining experience. 

For families, a new children’s playscape is also situated at the garden’s edge. “It provides a fun environment for our youngest guests to explore and is built to fit into the landscape of the garden,” says Jones. 

Historic veggies and more 

How does the historic vegetable garden grow at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill? Check out this video, which gives an overview, and another one that explains the garden’s regenerative agriculture practices. 

Learn more about Riverview at Hobson Grove Historic House Museum and the ongoing work there in this video. You’ll also catch glimpses of the incredible grounds surrounding it. 

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