Lucky me. When I posted to Facebook that I’d be going to Lexington, KY to see the town I was born in, a “friend” I didn’t actually know introduced herself as a local garden designer and offered to show me around. She mentioned a tour of something called Ashford Stud,  which to me were words that didn’t really make sense together.

But Bonnie Reid, who’s not only a horticulturist and garden designer but a horse breeder, too, knew what I didn’t – that world-class horse farms, including stud farms like her horticultural and design client Ashford in the heart of Kentucky horse country, are beautiful places.  Definitely worth an early morning tour.

So here’s Bonnie with Barry Duncil, Ashford’s landscape manager in front of Ashford’s Visitors Center. Barry led our tour by golf cart, with frequent stops.

And here’s Bonnie with a life-size statue of Giant’s Causeway in front of the Show Ring and Barn, where stallions go to work three times a day during breeding season, some earning as much as half a million a day for Coolmore, which also owns stud farms in Ireland and Australia.

Ashford’s Farm Office.

Photo by Barry Duncil

See, leading stud farms, with their million- and billionaire customers, need to look good, and this one sure does. I asked Barry if Ashford was unusually well landscaped for a Kentucky stud farm.

It’s very common for horse farms to have nice landscaping, although each farm will take various approaches. Some farms are quite contemporary with their use of materials, numerous water features and formal use of pruning and hedging. Ashford has done a great job of using and maintaining the local limestone for walls [above], buildings and barns. This, along with the massive oak, maple and walnut trees [below] gives it a very old yet classy feel to the grounds.

Photo by Barry Duncil

I asked if visitors comment on the grounds.

We get tons of compliments regarding the landscape, especially the old trees on the main drive and the use of perennial plantings at some of the most picture-worthy areas. The 100+ year stone-work allows one to step back in the past, so to speak.

Photo by Bonnie Reid

Barry tells me that Ashford’s Irish owners are reflected in the landscape features here – long rows of hedges as well as the use of evergreens for screening/wind breaks. The owners also “revere large and healthy trees, and that goes a long way in establishing the landscape aesthetic found here at Ashford.”

Asked if Ashford’s gardening techniques might apply to our gardening readers, Barry wrote that We use a lot of compost and bio-char for our new and old plantings. Combining the two soil amendments with the use of an air-knife, we are able to work around old trees and give them the nutrients that they need to stay healthy.”

Photos by Bonnie Reid

Raising Thoroughbreds on Kentucky Bluegrass

I did get to see some real-life stallions, including Justify here, who like seemingly all of Ashford’s stallions has his own Wiki page, where we learn that his stud fee for 2019 was $150,000. (Remember he can earn that three times a day.)

I learned lots more interesting facts about horse breeding from Barry and Bonnie. Did you know that old-fashioned breeding, as distinct from artificial insemination, is called “live cover”? Yeah, me neither. Plus a few more facts about horse breeding than garden-blog readers probably want to know.

Moving on to safer ground, let’s talk bluegrass! I found out what makes this part of Kentucky such an unusually good place to grow racehorses. It’s not just that Kentucky bluegrass is so magical but when it’s grown in Kentucky, the massive layer of limestone in the soil there provides a healthy dose of bone-building calcium. 

“The calcium carbonate helps harden a horse’s bones which is why Kentucky breeds such incredibly strong racehorses. The rich soil also allows grass to grow rather quickly, which lets farms feed more horses without the need for more land.”  Source.

A huge thank-you to Bonnie for so generously showing me not just Ashford (quite a thrill in itself) but other farms and quaint towns around the famous horse country outside Lexington. Here she is with one of the Connemara ponies she raises.

Finding My First Home

If you’ll excuse a brief off-topic note, while I was in Lexington I did manage to find the hospital where I was born and best of all, where my family lived in the ’40s. I had hunted down my birth certificate, found the address (on Liberty Road), and sure enough, the house matches the photo my family took of it in 1947. How cool is that?

My parents only lived there a couple of years while my dad was in grad school at the University of Kentucky; they moved back to Richmond, Va. soon after I was born. So all these years I’ve entered “Lexington, KY” as my place of birth but had never seen it! That’s what landed it on my bucket list – the only item on it. Now completed.

So now I can die? Jeez, I hope that’s not how bucket lists work.

The blurry photo on the right shows my dad in his graduation garb holding me, with my sister and his three sisters, who along with still more family members had traveled from Richmond, Va. for the big event.