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Botanical beauties

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Explore, wander, stroll, and play in our state’s living green gems

Did you know you can walk across Kentucky in just under 2 miles? Stroll among creatures that go thump in the night? See an alpine garden setting with plants grown in the Himalaya Mountains?

These adventures and plenty more await visitors at Kentucky’s botanical gardens and arboretums.

Meandering through the representations of different flora of the state’s seven physiographic regions is the Walk Across Kentucky, a fan favorite at The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky in Lexington. Visitors can stop and smell the tulip trees, spot wildlife and rare plants, and then wander over to another arboretum gem: the Home Demonstration Garden. Divided into garden rooms featuring fountains and ponds, and pollinator, herb, and vegetable gardens, it showcases the newest plants alongside classics like white forsythia and bottlebrush buckeye. A new network of mulched trails is being added to offer additional opportunities to see the plant collections.

Stop by the 2-acre enclosed Kentucky Children’s Garden, which delights all with themed gardens scaled down for little hands and big imaginations, and opportunities for garden-themed activities. Catch the model trains chugging along in the Transportation Garden. Play in the pioneer settlement with its heirloom veggies and old-time crops like sorghum, and in the Native American encampment where the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash—grow. Let the kids express their creativity with a garden-related art activity.

If time is limited, visit the 15-acre Arboretum Woods for a peek at one of the world’s last remaining examples of inner Bluegrass woodlands, or amble through the gardens and horticulture displays. The rose gardens are fragrant with more than 1,000 types of roses, including heirlooms from the Middle Ages.

“Every year, we plant around 10,000 bulbs in the displays around the Visitor Center and an equal number of annuals,” says arboretum horticulturist Jesse Dahl. “These provide for wave after wave of color from the middle of March until the beginning of November.”

Bernheim botanicals
At Clermont’s Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (served by Salt River Electric), the living legacy of philanthropist and visionary Isaac W. Bernheim, you can stand 75 feet above the forest floor on the Canopy Tree Walk, delve into the Edible Garden, walk among the wildflowers, explore Bernheim’s back roads with a naturalist, and meander down the I Spy Trail. The goal? Spotting items that are found occurring naturally along the trail.

You can also take one of the many classes offered at Bernheim (composting, anyone?) and lunch locally at Isaac’s Café in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum-Certified Visitor Center. The menu features ingredients from a mere 200 steps away.

“Weather permitting, you can climb Bernheim’s historic fire tower for a spectacular panoramic view above the forest,” says Amy Landon, marketing manager. “Experienced hikers can hike the 13-mile Millennium Trail.”

With some 40 miles of trails, hikers from novice to expert will find one to suit—from 1/4 mile to 13-plus miles—including several handicapped-accessible hikes.

“The arboretum trails are a great place to spot blooming flowers, trees, and shrubs,” Landon notes. “Natural area trails wander through pristine forest and wildlife may be spotted.”

Other activities include catch-and-release fishing for smallmouth bass, sunfish, bluegill, and more at Lake Nevin; night hikes, including Full Moon Hikes, Star Stories, and Creatures of the Night; and children’s programming. The most popular program? ECO Kids Discovery Days, held on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Kids love the hands-on discovery stations, self-guided adventures, and guided 45- to 60-minute hike of the day.

Wander Yew Dell
Step into the green-roofed greenhouse at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood. Among the plant collections, you’ll spot tropical orchids and seed of the native bigleaf magnolia germinating in this one-of-a-kind, solar- and geothermal-powered conservatory.

Roam about themed gardens—sunken rock, serpentine, secret, and more—and amble around historic buildings. An 1840s log cabin, a corncrib, the tobacco barn, and the Rock House—once used as the nursery’s loading dock—these and others planted in the landscape date back to the early 1940s when the land was the Theodore Klein family farm.

Wandering the grounds is the favored activity.

“The pond and hiking trails are great ways to enjoy nature ‘in the raw,’” says Jackie Gulbe, marketing and events director. “And I can’t leave off the Castle.”

It is one of the very first things visitors see, looming large with its four turrets near Yew Dell’s entrance, just outside of the Visitors Center/Garden Gift Shop.

Gulbe outlines a perfect Yew Dell day: “Plan your day around a class or workshop and bring a picnic basket and hike down to the pond for lunch. If you’re a tree geek, stroll through the arboretum. Rest in a rocking chair overlooking the meadow; you never know what kind of wildlife you’ll see.

“If you want to have some silly fun, try a scavenger hunt,” she adds. “They’re designed for kids, but what the heck, adults can have fun with them, too!”

Gone fishin’ and hikin’ and birdin’. . .

The Jacob Vanmeter Trail and Arboretum in Elizabethtown is part of the 18-mile Greenbelt Trail system of walking trails and mini and patio parks that wend around Freeman Lake, Buffalo Lake, and Fisherman’s Lake in Hardin County. The Jacob Vanmeter Trail was built by the Boy Scouts. Hiking, birding, fishing, picnicking, and other nature pursuits are available along the various points of the Greenbelt Trail.

Serenity now

One word: serenity. Munfordville’s Green River Park & Arboretum (served by Farmers RECC) embodies peacefulness. Unspooling along the banks of the Green River, the park is shady, cool, and quiet, with about 75 trees planted in the arboretum, augmented by stands of native trees. With a walking trail, picnic shelters, playground, and disc golf, this is a park to wile away a lazy day.

Destinations: What’s happening in the garden

The Arboretum
State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, Lexington;  (859) 257-6955. Admission: The Arboretum, free (donations gratefully accepted); Kentucky Children’s Garden, $3/person over age 2 and free/children under 2; $10/day for up to five family members. Upcoming events: Volunteer Appreciation Concert, June 25; “ReTurned to the Arboretum” Silent Auction and Display benefiting Bluegrass Wood Turners and the Arboretum, June 24–July 10; Birdhouse Display, July 13–31.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Clermont;  (502) 955-8512. Admission: free Mondays–Fridays; $5/passenger car, minivan, or motorcycle, and $10/passenger van, RV on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. New for 2016: “Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat” traveling exhibit, through July 5. Upcoming event: CONNECT at Bernheim, 6:18–10:18 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, with live musical performances, a light sculpture competition, and hands-on experiences for adults and families, including making art, drum circle participation, hacker creations, and participatory science.

Green River Park & Arboretum
Munfordville;  (270) 524-4752, (888) 686-3673. Free admission.
Jacob Vanmeter Trail and Arboretum
Elizabethtown;,, (270) 422-3944, (270) 735-2900. Free admission. Turtle Talk/Walk with Dr. Paul Gerard, June 5 at 3 p.m. at the Buffalo Lake Trailhead.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens
Crestwood; (502) 241-4788. Admission: $7/adults; $5/seniors; free/children under 12 and active military (with current military ID). Upcoming events: Sunday Supper (formerly Farm to Table Dinner): fresh farm fare in a striking summer setting, 6–9 p.m. June 26; Fifth Annual Oldham Rotary Bourbon and Wine Tasting, 6:30–10:30 p.m. Aug. 19; Hummingbird Festival, 3–6 p.m. Aug. 21 (free with regular admission): hummingbird plants for sale, kid’s activities, refreshments, tours, and local experts, including hummingbird expert Brainard Palmer-Ball, who will share a wealth of knowledge and a rare opportunity to see hummingbirds up close. Bring camera and binoculars.

Kathy Witt from June 2016 Issue

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