Bluegrass Exteriors

Tn previous installments of this column, we've discovered some pretty grand interiors. So in honor of the warmer temperatures gracing the Bluegrass, we're going to take it outside this week.

One of the important things to remember is that design can come in many forms and with many different purposes. For these two spaces, the purpose comes naturally.

The Ashland Garden, on the grounds of the Henry Clay Estate, was designed back in 1951 on the original garden site created by Mrs. Clay. Cincinnati designer Henry Fletcher Kenney, a playmate of Henry Bullock (great great grandson of Henry Clay and the last family member to reside on the estate), was chosen to give the space a formal look. Today, you can marvel at the handiwork of the Garden Club of Lexington, the people behind the garden's current appearance.

The garden boasts a labyrinth of flora, thanks to the green thumbs in the club. But you won't just happen upon things willy nilly. There's a well-thought out plan to the garden. Along the shapely paths are neatly coifed flowering shrubs and a chorus line of rose bushes.

At least last week anyway. As the life cycle of certain flowers end, new varieties are planted, giving the garden an evolving appearance as the months change.

Despite the host of allergens lingering in the air, the garden is quite the feast for the senses. You experience a strong rush of scents when you walk through the gates, and the visual impact of all the colors is simply stunning. Even the sense of touch gets a turn as there's nothing like the feel of a silky smooth rose petal. (OK, so I'm not so sure that they're into everyone groping the flowers, so do it rather gently.)

And as the sense of sound will attest, there's always a gaggle of activity within the brick walls surrounding the garden. People of all ages enjoy the experience, even if it's just for a place of serenity during your lunch hour. In fact, according to Ashland's Education Coordinator Judy Ogger, the garden has thousands of visitors each year. But one guest they're rather fond of is HGTV, who featured the garden on their network last year.

If your thumbs are anything but green and you need some advice on gardening, stop by Ashland on Wednesday mornings. That's when you'll find members of the garden club hard at work at Ashland, each member tending to their assigned spot.

On the flip side of Ashland is McConnell Springs, housed amid a dusty industrial section of the city-the most unlikeliest of places for such a natural endeavor.

OK, so the walking trails were manmade designs, guiding visitors to all the primo sights on the grounds. And the staff has a hand in maintaining the facility. But the rest was all designed by Mother Nature herself.

Her creation is quite impressive. Just ask the busloads of children visiting on any given weekday. Robyn Ready, program supervisor at McConnell Springs, says the schoolkids are their biggest supporters. "We had more kids than general visitors last year," she said.

Since the site is open 363 days a year (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas), there's no excuse for you not to drop by.

Having recently celebrated Founders' Day (1775), McConnell Springs is quite the living history lesson of Lexington. In fact, it was on this 26-acre site, settled by William McConnell, that Lexington was named.

The springs themselves are obviously the main draw, but the simple natural beauty of McConnell Springs will keep you enthralled as you walk the 1/2-mile paved trail. (Throw in the unpaved trail and you'll walk another .6 miles.) In total, there are two miles of trails wandering throughout the grounds, guiding you to such sites as the Blue Hole and the Boils, two major springs within the park; lush vegetation; stone fences; and the shells of some historical buildings.

Of course the park's industrial neighbors weren't around when the site was founded. As modern times took over, these factories and businesses converged on the area. Luckily, such groups as the Friends of McConnell Springs and the LFUCG came to the rescue. Part of the land for the park was donated, and funds were raised to acquire the rest. LFUCG provides the basic necessities to run the facility, while the Friends spring for such operational items as new computers and lab equipment.

This unique space is such a central part of Lexington's history that it should almost be a requirement to anyone calling themselves a Lexingtonian. At the very least, it's worth the time to stroll along the grounds and see where Lexington got its start.

McConnell Springs is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and provides public programs and walks the first and last Saturday of the month. n

Julie Wilson's column rotates regularly on Ace's Real Estate page with Walter Jowers' Helter Shelter. If you have a fascinating residential or commercial space for Julie to profile (as long as it is not on the market), email her at