Native Plants for Beginners - A HerKentucky Guest Post

Today, local garden enthusiast Retta Ritchie-Holbrook shares with us her efforts to fill her garden with native Kentucky plant species. Be sure to check out her fabulous list of resources, as well. Maybe my black thumb isn't so black after all! Maybe I just need to choose more native plants!

One of the flowers from my friend - Wild Columbine
My first true foray into gardening began when I bought a house and decided I wanted to make the landscape more appealing. My mother is an avid gardener and grows the most beautiful flowers. I guess you can say the desire to grow things runs in the family. The only problem was I didn’t seem to be very good at it. I would buy an array of bright, colorful plants only to watch them die. Sometimes, I would get lucky, and the plants would live for a few years until they became diseased, got pests or we would have a drought and I would miss watering them a few times because I was traveling for work. I would then have to yank them out and replace them. Gardening seemed like a lot of work and I simply didn’t have the time for it.

This process went on for a few years until a friend brought me some plants from her own garden and told me they were Kentucky native plants. I had not heard of native gardening at that time but those plants thrived and are still in my garden today. This encouraged me to learn more about native plants.

Native gardening or native landscaping is what its name implies: growing plants that are native to your area. I slowly started replacing my less hardy flowers with mostly native plants. They did so well that I began adding more and more flowerbeds with native plants and I’m currently in the process now of turning my backyard into mostly flowers and plants and less turf.
In my garden, left to right: a.) Butterfly Weed & Purple Coneflowers b.) Celadine Poppy (Good in Shade) c.) Rattlesnake Plant

Some benefits of native plants:

  • They require less fertilizers and fewer pesticides.
  • They require less water and often do better through droughts and other extreme types of weather.
  • They provide shelter and food for wildlife. This also helps to manage the pests since wildlife feed on the pests, eliminating or greatly reducing the need for chemical pest control. I personally have not used pesticides for years.
  • They are usually not invasive because they are a balanced part of the ecosystem and have natural predators.
  • Native plants are beautiful, hardy and come in a wide variety of options. I recently added some native bushes, such as the spice bush, to encourage butterflies to breed there.

One of my flowerbeds doing well even after the early summer drought.

Because native plants are adapted to the local environment, they are easier to grow and create ecosystems for birds, pollinators and other beneficial critters. Now my yard is alive with butterflies, birds and more. I looked out the window just the other day to see a gold finch eating seeds out of the coneflower heads. I’ve seen several new species of birds and butterflies just this year alone that I had never seen in my yard before and I love it.

Left to right: a.) Lady Bug larva b.) Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


Just a few of my favorite plants (Many of these have several varieties to choose from):

Places to visit for inspiration:

Online Resources for Native Plant Species:

Where to buy native species:

Native Plant Societies:

Kentucky Places: Zappos Fulfillment Center

I bet most of you all didn't know that Shephardsville, Ky (about 10 minutes outside of Louisville) is the home to several fulfillment centers- Zappos, Rue La La, and Gilt Groupe.  

 Back in 2003, one of my High School friends told me about a little known secret- the Zappos Outlet.  Zappos is an online retailer of everything from high end shoes to clothes, accessories, and just about anything in between! 
I always try to pop in to see if the Zappos Outlet has any good deals, and most of the time they definitely do!  Basically anything that is on the Zappos website is fair game for the outlet.  I have seen very expensive high-end shoes there for nearly 75% off of retail.  
If you're ever driving up I-65 towards Louisville, you may want to stop and check it out.  I promise you won't be disappointed.  

Kentucky Places: The Bodley-Bullock House

It just isn't summer in Lexington until you've attended a wedding at the Bodley-Bullock House.
Photo via Junior League of Lexington
The 1814 mansion, with its Federal and Greek Revival details, is located in the heart of Lexington's Gratz Park Neighborhood and is a perennial favorite event space for Lexington brides. 
Gratz Park houses, next door to the Bodley-Bullock.
The Bodley-Bullock House was built for Lexington mayor Thomas Pindell, and was most notably owned by General Thomas Bodley, a War of 1812 hero, and Dr. Waller Bullock, a prominent Lexington physician.   Upon the passing of Dr. Bullock and his wife Minnie, the home was left in trust to Transylvania University and was renovated by the Junior League of Lexington in 1984.  It is used as both the Junior League Headquarters and a rentable event space. The house is similar in architecture and decor to many other Gratz Park-area houses, including the Hunt-Morgan House.
View from the window of Minnie Bullock's bedroom
This weekend, I attended a family wedding at the Bodley-Bullock House.  The dramatic staircase and old-fashioned touches provided an absolutely stunning backdrop.
My gorgeous cousin Amy

I've attended dozens of weddings at the venue. I've put in my share of Junior League meetings and picnics there as well.  It's always been one of those comfortable, friendly houses that just embodies Old Lexington, and it's always been rumored to be just a little bit haunted.  The best houses always are.

Looks like the bride and I inadvertantly disregarded Miss Minnie's wishes. 
I recently ran across an interesting anecdote about the Bodley-Bullock House.  It seems that the late Mrs. Minnie Bullock was not only a community leader, but also a vehement teetotaler.  Apparently, the original terms of her will provided that alcohol could not be consumed in her home, even after her passing.  It seems that this provision was later changed, to Miss Minnie's dismay -- it's said that her ghost has been known to flicker lights and crack tables when she doesn't like the happenings in her home.  Now,  I've had more than my share of celebratory toasts in this venue, so I hope Miss Minnie can forgive me.  Rumor has it that Dr. Bullock wasn't above kidding Miss Minnie about her temperance beliefs; he hung a portrait of the "town drunk", William "King" Solomon, in their home, where it still remains.

The Bodley-Bullock House is a charming example of Lexington's old Downtown.  I so enjoyed Miss Minnie's hospitality this weekend, and I do hope she can look past my bubbly endulgence!

Kentucky Places: Greentree Tea Room

A few weeks ago, I visited Greentree for a bridal tea.  We arrived a little early and took a little time to enjoy the adorable shops near the tea room.  L.V. Harkness is such a lovely spot for gifts, stationery, and home decor, and Belle Maison has such delightful antique finds! 

Luncheon at Greentree and shopping nearby was, as usual, simply enchanting.  I'm always amazed that such a quaint, old-fashioned nook is hidden so close to Rupp Arena and the downtown scene!

My cousin Amy (the lovely bride) and me.

A Verdant Oasis in the Middle of Lexington

DSC_2449This year, I’ve gotten the crazy idea to try and grow some of our own food. This is worrisome because I’ve been known to kill cactus. Last fall, I started some kitchen herbs and those are still (mostly) alive. In the early Spring, I sweet-talked my husband into building some raised beds for our teeny tiny front yard.

My grand plans to grow vegetables from seeds turned out to be terrible plans. Everything died just before they were to be transplanted outdoors.

On to Plan B!

Enter Michler’s – a Lexington florist and greenhouse for over a century. Originally, I planned to go to Fayette Seed for my transplants, but it turns out they have operating hours that don’t mesh with my schedule. A friend suggested Michler’s – by way of saying, “You know…that place on Maxwell Street.” I did not, in fact, know.

I wracked my brain, trying to think of anything resembling a nursery in that part of Lexington. In all my four years of living there, and having UK friends living in the Aylesford neighborhood, I never once noticed the little nursery on Maxwell tucked away after the apartment buildings of north campus but before you get to the shops near Woodland Avenue.

DSC_2458My husband and I visited and were in awe of the rambling old greenhouses, filled with lots of plants that I could never name. It turns out the greenhouses that were so picturesque, that my husband described as looking “like they’ve been there forever” have, indeed been there a long time! Michler’s proclaims itself as “Kentucky’s oldest continually operating florist and greenhouses”.

DSC_2460The staff was friendly and knowledgeable. They put up with me asking a ton of newbie questions. The variety of flowers, ferns and landscape adornments was fantastic. If I were in the market for ornamental items I wouldn’t hesitate to spend my money, locally, at Michler’s. Since the plants are grown, here, it makes sense to me that they’d thrive and flourish, here. I’m not so sure you’d have the same luck with plants grown in greenhouses and shipped hundreds of miles to your local big box store.

This was my first trip to ever look for vegetable transplants, so I’m not sure how great their selection was. They had a variety of herbs. We picked up both some mint and rosemary to add to the basil and cilantro I was able to start at home. There were many different types of tomatoes – heirloom and non-heirloom varieties. We ended up with three varieties of peppers (jalapenos, sweet yellow chilies and traditional chilies), eggplant, cucumber, Swiss chard, and three types of tomatoes (Brandywine, yellow pear, and Roma). On a whim, my husband grabbed some sunflower seeds.

Michler’s is not just a greenhouse nursery. They offer floral arrangements and plant and delivery in Lexington (with online ordering as an option). They also have garden design services and offer wedding flowers.
The next time you’re in downtown Lexington, I urge you to visit Michler’s. It really is like another world right in the heart of the city – a world where everything is green and fresh and full of life. I’m so happy to have discovered this verdant enclave.

For further reading, check out Michler’s website, blog, and a recent Herald-Leader story.

Kentucky Places: Keeneland

1949 crowd scene, via Keeneland.
When the HerKentucky team put together our list of Favorite Things earlier this year, it was no surprise that most of us mentioned Keeneland.  It's pretty much a universal thing -- everyone who's spent any time in Lexington loves Keeneland.

One of my very favorite things about going to Keeneland is that the track is always catching my fancy in new and unexpected ways.  Sometimes, I'm overcome by the majesty of the horses and the thrill of the races.  Other times, I'm struck by the beauty of the grounds, completely amazed that I'm standing less than a mile away from the clutter of the airport and the sprawl of Man O' War Boulevard.  Some days, the track is so filled with friends, classmates and acquaintances that I barely have time to place a bet amidst all the catching up.  Most often, however, I find myself getting lost in romantic notions of the track's 75 year history. 
1950 Paddock scene, via Keeneland.

Now, I love hearing about the glory days of horse racing.  I simply can't get enough of those movies like Seabiscuit and Secretariat, or any of those racehorse biographies, or any other stories of the history of the sport.  I love the idea that racing was once  a national phenomenon, and I am fascinated by the idea that thoroughbred racehorses were once celebrated as celebrity athletes.  Every time I walk the paddock at Keeneland, I envision a time long past, when everyone took horses as seriously as we do in Lexington.

via Keeneland.

  What's your favorite part of a trip to the track?

{You can read more thoughts on Keeneland from the HerKentucky team here. My article in the latest issue of Ace Weekly magazine provides an overview of the Keeneland experience for first-timers.}

Kentucky Places: Lexington Cemetery

Seeing as spring has sprung early (seriously - we had about 2.2 days of winter this year), flowers and trees are all blooming. One of the most beautiful places to watch this transformation is at the Lexington Cemetery.

Founded in 1849, the Lexington Cemetery skirts downtown with over 170 acres of land, and has has over 200 species of trees including dogwoods, color crab apples, ornamental magnolias and pink weeping cherries. Throughout the season, cemetery visitors can find beautiful gardens of annuals and perennials.

First 5 photos courtesy of Dee Fife. Last photo courtesy of the Lexington Cemetery. 

To learn more about the horticulture, or even the notable people buried on the grounds (including my mom - she is notable to me :), visit