The Master Gardener, the Spring Chick, and a Little Lesson.

Last weekend it was warm & sunny so I pretty much planted myself at my potting bench!  That was then - when I started writing this post - & this is now, when I'm finally publishing!  Those little things called "Life" and "Internal Error" tend to put things on hold so my apologies for the delay.
Meanwhile, back at my might want to go grab another cup of's a long one.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
What to do, what to do?
Around here they say,
"Don't fill your outdoor planters until Derby!"
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Who are they kidding, that's not until the first Saturday in May.
  They're not kidding!
Peace by Collier Porter
Peace In the Garden-Hose by Collier Porter
I remember our first Spring here in the Bluegrass and the suggestion of waiting till May to fill my patio & deck with flowers did not settle well with this Spring Chick.   So I went from nursery to nursery - well, actually only two - certain that someone had given me the wrong information!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Nursery #1
I was pretty much the only one there.  Ok, so the owner was there too.  I strolled through the main shop pretending to be a master gardener on a mission!
She looked at me like I was from Mars but could not have been nicer.  It was freezing outside and before I knew it, this sweet woman was offering me coffee.  The other option was to wander outside down desolate pea gravel paths yearning for velvety green boxwoods and the scent of sweet magnolias.  Let's just say I never left the main shop.  A good visit with a wise gardener & some new gloves later & I was on my way.
Now, not to be a doubter but I can be a bit persistent so I made just one more stop.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Nursery #2
Same plan of action but with a bit more confidence because Nursery #1 had taught this spring chick a thing or two.  Again, I appeared to be the only customer.  I could see a woman unpacking boxes in the shop and I noticed a gentleman outdoors in denim work clothes preparing for the first shipment of trees & shrubs to arrive.
Gosh, he was a handsome rugged man with such a friendly broad smile.  I decided to keep my coat on and follow him around for a bit.  Even though he was quite busy, he acted as if he had all the time in the world for me. 
Handsome rugged man: "Welcome how can we help you?"
Spring Chick: Oh, I was just dropping my kids off at school and decided to stop by for a look....
You see, I have stacks & stacks of garden books from the local library and have been planning & plotting all winter long!
getty images
I want a raised garden, a shade garden, a sun garden, a scented garden, and I live in hardiness zone 6, with annual temperatures ranging from -10 to 105 F : )
He smiled his broad smile, removed his hat & gloves and introduced himself.
Handsome rugged man:"Are you new to the area?"
He put me so instantly at ease that I decided to wise up, drop the master gardener act and start asking questions.  However, he wanted to begin with mulch. 
Spring Chick: Mulch, don't you mean dirt? I've got plenty thank you.
As I mentioned earlier, he seemed to have the time & I had till the 3:15 dismissal bell so we continued on.
By the time I left I was a master of mulch & had ordered my roses!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Little did I know that I was in the company of Kentucky gardening royalty!
This kind man was master gardener,
Louis Hillenmeyer.
It was in the spring of 1841 that the Hillenmeyer family's first shipment of fruit trees arrived in Lexington.  This set into motion what is now six generations of his family in the horticulture industry making Hillenmeyers one of the oldest continuously operated family-owned landscaping companies in the country!
photo, Joseph Hillenmeyer
photo, Joseph Hillenmeyer & Associates 
Today "Louie" continues to provide the best to Lexington gardeners at his delightful Flower Power Shops.  The selection and service is consistent and always delivered in style.  Beginner & master gardeners are given the same generous amount of time, knowledge, and great conversation with Louie and his beautiful & talented wife!  She has a green thumb & great style & will gladly help you pair any of the incredible baskets or pottery that she buys in France with beautiful healthy herbs, ivy, plants and flowers. 
photo, Lisa Porter   photo Lisa Porter   
One of the ways that the Hillenmeyers are contributing towards keeping Lexington "green" is by selling many of their smaller plants in simple terracotta clay pots, the way nurseries used to!  I like that!
So if you find yourself driving up & down Tates Creek a million times a day like I do, take the time to stop by Louie's Flower Power Shop!  Whether I'm picking up a gift basket full of geraniums or Christmas greens, I always grab a coffee at Fresh Market and stroll over to Louie's to enjoy the classical music, visit with all the nice people there and start planning for the season.  I always leave feeling like a happy gardener!
  photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter   
I'll admit, I'm a bit partial, as Louie's daughter is a dear, sweet friend! 
For many wonderful years we were little league moms huddled together up high in the bleachers under wool stadium blankets in early spring & umbrellas in late summer.  We were faithfully cheering our sons on & upholding the family pride!  Taylor was often working the concession stand & our husbands were coaching their Minor League Texas Rangers down in the dusty dugout!
Baseball by Collier Porter
photo Collier Porter
Back to gardening, sorry!
Since the weather continues to be predictably unpredictable, before we head over to Hillenmeyers, we head to the forest.
The forest? Yes, it's down the road just up past the ball park!
I know you're probably lost.....
When we moved here from So Cal ten years ago, our children only knew sand and saltwater. That first Spring  I was excited for them to discover dirt that was hard as clay, soft green moss, sticks & stones.  Our first gathering produced burlap bags filled with moss & enough sticks to start an arbor! 
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
A few months later sweet Clematis took over and began to blossom, a feathered friend moved in & the arbor felt like it had been there for years. 
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
So you might be wondering where this story is leading to...not the ball park.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
I'm heading back to my potting bench, because as I've mentioned in a post before
, it's where I go to relax!
I've also had many inquiries as to what I'm going to do with all that moss!
So with a little help from my friend...
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
I'll show you.
Over the years at Easter my kids have gone from coloring & collecting eggs, to "I was wondering if there was any chance of us going to the late service & are we going anywhere for brunch?"  Every year I bring out special items that we have cherished for years but those brightly colored Easter baskets, (still love them) now consist of gifts gathered from God's green earth in celebration of Easter, Earth Day & Arbor Day too!
Now, if you're still with me, gather a few garden supplies and your Mother Earth imagination!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
I use these lightweight half barrel planters - that Taylor had painted white - highlighting the black straps.
Then I place a couple of plastic pots inside them but upside down. 
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
The upside down pots create a raised flat area for the moss to sit. Since you don't need much soil for this project, you can fill in around the edges with anything you like, I use the left-over pinecones gathered at Christmas. They retain moisture keeping this all very low, Lisa Porter photo Lisa Porter
I then take a couple of large round biodegradable coconut liners and pull them apart to the diameter that I want.  These are optional but they do create a natural kind of nest & help retain moisture which the moss thrives on. You can fray the edges a little or go crazy pulling every which way.  I use this stuff year round.  If you like the look, it's a great filler for any container like my favorite basket on my front door!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Now for the fun part.  This is when I grab a sweet tea & turn up the volume on my garden mix! When I collect the moss, I visualize sort of a woodland theme at my front door so I grab anything interesting on the forest floor. Twigs, fungus, twisty curly things, bark, nuts, and grass.
You didn't know I was so green did you? 
Actually, I give the MR. full credit for providing this lush green backdrop. 
He is master of the lawn!  : )
I kept having to move out of the sun to photograph all this so carting it around in the wagon made things easier.  Rustoleum spray paint in high gloss John Deere Green gave the old girl new life so now she Runs like a Deere!  My high gloss black lab Gracie did not run like a Deere & instead stayed right in the middle of it all.  I like that though.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter 
Back to the planters.  To give things a boost, I found a couple of gnarly logs from what's left of the wood pile and plopped them on top . photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
I added handfuls of soil and started planting around & up onto the log.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter 
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
Then I just started playing with all the different varieties of moss, tucking some into a split in the log, and another variety around the base of the grass and so on to help hold the soil in place.
Remember these guys from the potting bench?  Being that these are Easter planters, I borrowed a flat mossy stone from the patio for one bunny to sit on.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
More layers of moss with some blue-green fungus, some tree bark and some twisted vines to finish it off!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
The other planter was more wild & woodsy. Once again I started with an big old split log for height and then added some grass & some long stemmed wild garlic.
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
I piled more soil up on a section of the log and then layered some sheets of moss over the top.  This log was actually kind of pretty & had the perfect spot for a bunny to sit so I left that part exposed. More moss, some nuts & twigs and twisted vines gave this one great character!
photo, Lisa Porter
photo Lisa Porter
What I really love about these is that they change, daily.  Little clovers & ferns from the forest floor have been known to sprout up over night!  Now it's time to grab my latest Veranda and another sweet tea, relax &  let Mother Nature take over for a while.   
Don't forget to water!  Thank you Collier : ) photo, Lisa Porter

photo Lisa Porter
For some of the finest gardening in Kentucky by one of the the nicest families in the world, I invite you to visit the Hillenmeyer family.
Courtesy of Joseph Hillenmeyer & Associates
photo,  Joseph Hillenmeyer & Associates
Using both classical hand drawn plans and renderings as well as state of the art computer animation, Louie's son, Joseph Hillenmeyer and his professional staff offer professional care and advice for all of your horticultural needs.
"We often find that our clients feel they have gained much more than just a garden. They have added a whole new way in which to relax and enjoy the beauty of their home." Joseph Hillenmeyer
click to visit Joseph Hillenmeyer & Associates

Central Kentucky has a fine reputation for being home to the most beautiful horse farms in the world and Hillenmeyers has been providing their services to many of them for more than 100 years!
Courtesy of Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services
photo, Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services
Lexington also has a fine reputation for being home to some of the most beautiful gardens in Kentucky.  Well known for his high standards, Louie's brother, Stephen Hillenmeyer offers professional landscaping services that are tailored to fit the needs of both commercial and residential properties of every size.
click to visit Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services
This stunning garden is a collaboration between Stephen Hillenmeyer and local resident Georgia Rodes. Rodes Residence, Lexington, Kentucky
photo Hirsheimer & Hamilton for Beautiful Gardens of Kentucky
You can see more of the private retreat & many others in the extraordinary book,
Beautiful Gardens of Kentucky by acclaimed garden designer Jon Carloftis.
Beautiful Gardens of Kentucky coverBook Cover by Hirsheimer & Hamilton

Now if you're not exhausted from all the gardening & baseball & if you have time, walk with me down through Lexington's Historic District. Lexington Historic District  Tour the private porches & gardens of Ashland residents.Ashland Porch & Garden Tour And visit Gainesway Farm, one of the most beautiful horse farms in the world.Gainesway Farm                                 
Enjoy & Happy Gardening!


My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Hi Lisa, This is wonderful!! I went from a lush, semi-shade garden {one of my greatest loves} to the sand where I now only grow perennial lavender. Oh, how I miss the excitement of spring and gardening, when so many old friends peek out from the earth! Lovely. oxo

Karena said...

Lisa this post just made my day!! We have a wintry mix coming in to Kansas City.

Is there anything better than a great nursery? You mentiond Derby Day...I grew up hearing 'Never plant until after Mother's Day!

Art by Karena

stylishserendipity said...

As a gardener in Northeast Ohio/Zone 5 anxiously awaiting signs of spring , I enjoyed your wonderfully long gardening post! Thanks for that fun break in my to get wrapped up in a blog post and escape for awhile.

Growing up in Cincinnati, Lexington was such a fun place to visit, Keeneland in the fall(spring too cold), antiques, Claiborne, etc farm visits, yummy Kentucky country food...your blog keeps it all alive for me! Thank you for sharing!

Anne Marie... said...

Lisa! What a beautiful post this was....I loved the writing, thoroughly enjoyed all the gardening ideas, and loved the pictures - especially of the children...that one is beautiful...

I haven't ever been to Kentucky, but would love to some day...and visit the gardens there -

Gertrude Jekyl is someone I admire, and that gardener's style (how awesome you got advice from him!) seems very much like hers...

great post -
Anne Marie
(if it helps's only 26* here today - so I know how you feel)

Splendid Sass said...

Lisa, when is the book being published? You are such a good storyteller that you owe it to yourself and us to write a book!
Loved this story. You have inspired me to go to the forest. If you never hear from me again, you will know what happened, lol.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, and have a great weekend in the garden.

quintessence said...

What a wonderful vicarious visit I had with you today. I have a black thumb so can only appreciate for the aesthetic rather than practical value. But what a wonderful family and establishment!! I will definitely be checking out your wonderful book suggestion - I do love at least looking!!

Town and Country Mom said...

Lovely, lovely post! I am sure I will read it many times. I love your planters--thank you for the tutorial. I will be prowling my woodsy backyard as soon as the rain stops. I would love it if you would consider a tutorial on your glorious arbor! Fantastic!

Lisa said...

Thank you friends for your great comments!
If you want a tutorial on a natural arbor I would be happy to give one! I have photos of the many stages and actually just started a new one!
Just let me know : )
Xo Lisa

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I did not want this post to end dear Lisa. I suspect you are like me and would rather spend a day at a grand nursery like Hillenmeyer's than shopping for clothes any day? I LOVE visiting nurseries and could spend hours milling about, fantasizing about what plants to add to my gardens. I know I'd love Kentucky, especially from what you've shown us through your blog. You are a great hostess for your beautiful state. Your planters are incredible and what a truly clever idea incorporating what is readily available in your own backyard. I knew you were green and I knew you were amazingly creative too. Love the photo of your arm & Gracie's paw. You got me there in the tear dept.!! You've inspired me to get off my chair & get outside today. Thanks Lisa, such a joy to read.
xo xo

NantucketDaffodil said...

Lisa, a fabulous post. here in Massachusetts, we tend to use Memorial Day as our "ok..last frost must be past" cut off.I am yearning for gardening. Your work is lovely, and creative...can't say we even have moss greening up yet :) s spring approaches here, I too will post about the favorite place to be. Thank goodness I have summers off.

Renae Moore said...

Gosh Lisa, I learn so much from you. You are one creative gal and I want to come play in your yard! I love how Miss Gracie helps too! Mr. MD and I spent the morning in garden centers, stone quarries and then the bicycle shop!
Love your arbor, I'm thinking we have to wait until serious planting until after May day too!
Love the post, getting ready for read #2!

The enchanted home said...

Lisa..thanks so much for stopping by! Your comments totally made my day...feel free to come by anytime! LOVED this post..the pictures are so beautiful, they really tell a favorites kind of posts. The writing and all the gardening tips all rolled into one made this such fun. Kentucky looks so beautiful, never have been but hope to one day as I have always wanted to see the Bluegrass region.......looks so spectacular. Happy gardening!!

Renée Finberg said...


i just linked this post to mine on planters.
you are truly a gardening wizard!!

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

Lovely...ALL of it the planters, the pictures...the story, the nursery....and even the snow!

Happy gardening, dear friend!

mwaxter said...

Terrific post. Great story. Inspirational...just wish I had a green thumb! I have tried and tried and the only successful thing I grew was a pumpkin patch and not by choice but all the pumpkin seeds were scattered and the following year we had a pumpkin patch the size of a tennis court. I kid you not!

Marcy said...

I adore your planters! I get anxious to get outside and start planting this time of year too - but must wait. The spring weather is coming and I will keep planning, and waiting... thank you for the inspiration.

JMW said...

I broke the rule and planted before Derby - couldn't help it! I have pansies in my planters on my front porch. I was dying for some color and a chance to dress up the front entry a bit. Love what you did with the baskets - you are so talented! I really must get the Carloftis book - a must for a Kentucky girl!

Francine Gardner said...

Hi Lisa:
I am going to be late for work, I was so engrossed in reading your post. I cannot wait to start getting my hands into the dirt, the boxwoods, roses, hedges are trimmed, my mulch waiting to be spread, cannot wait to start planting my vegetables (not until may first) but still so much to do until then!