Bernheim Forest – A “Holy Cow” of Springtime Delights

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There is something nearly Supernatural about this splendid forest, located about 25 miles outside of Louisville, Kentucky, bearing south on I-65. Bernheim Forest can give you its own set of facts and figures and detail its own history from its website right here: Bernheim(in its own words). But I can tell you from first hand experience, what they have done in terms of preservation as well as in experimentation is truly remarkable.

The structure below is their “Canopy Walk” – a bridge to nowhere – which exists to allow a person to admire a truly “bird’s eye view” from high among the tops of the local trees in the middle of the forest. The picture below that one is the view in its current early, raw Springtime form. One can readily see that this is a country ripe with rainfall and plump fat trees and plants, all set into sustaining soils – a richness which has that rare and intriguing quality of just seeming incredibly fortunate and uncommonly beautiful as a result. This is what “Pampered” means in Nature!:┬á ­čśë

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Kentucky’s forests, especially in this central state view, are a typical riot of deciduous hardwoods, comprising endless species from native Kentucky Coffee Trees (yes, lol) to the Hickory Trees shown here – and onward, to Maples, Oaks, ‘Gums’ of all sorts, Elms and then – wow! – to the SpringTime wonders of the local world – Dogwood Trees and the Native Red Buds. All are just getting underway in the deepst sections of the forest and Bernheim provides drives and alleyways which one can explore either on foot via the well-kept and fabulous trails or even by just plain old car. Here are a couple of “road views” my Mom and I took while coursing through there yesterday:

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There is a somehow “innocent” appeal in the picture below. The simplicity and the big fat lush background of this volunteer Dogwood tree, all scraggly but proud, shows Nature’s best qualities. Survival and beauty coexist in a riot of simple floral beauty, spackling the environment with simplicity but remarkable – nearly Japanese Garden/Zen-like – gorgeousness of form and function.

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Moving along from literary license, we encounter other wonders in this Natural Paradise. Isn’t this pretty?:

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And this? Disgusting, isn’t it? We had a laugh as I named some of these groupings and trees. I called this one, for example “Hot Shot”. He’s totally in his element, man.

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But of even greater impact to many, and I have to include myself to a degree, is the work Bernheim has done in cultivating a captivating environment not just for the Natural side of things – but as a “Garden”. They have featured Kentucky’s greatest products – (no, NOT Bourbon!┬á That’s later.) – these “great” items being natural Bluegrass and these wonderful trees and plants, together in ways which clear the mind and soul with devastating vistas of glorious color and, really, totally extravagant beauty:

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And in this regard they feature the ‘Margins’ of natural forest and cultivation.

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This beautiful grove at the back end of Bernheim’s cultivated park area is exceptionally special to me. It is the location where we spread my Father’s ashes following his passing in 1983, spread far to the left of the statue and among his favorite spots on Earth. He has a headstone of course, at my Mom’s family plot in Illinois, representing his military service and occupying the space among so many of his friends from those days. They are no doubt delighted by yet more of his fun-loving foolishness and charm. But it is here in Bernheim where I find him in my heart. Yeah, Bernheim is special to me for this reason. He was just a terrific guy and I miss him. Pardon the interruption. But you have to admit it’s a cool spot, eh?

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This meandering road leads up to the Statue Garden above. The placidity and lushness of all these forms and colors provide the utter uniqueness of this wonderful place, designed by this marvelous combination of Nature and rigorous planning. The split rail fences are of the type which were commonest for farms and properties back when Kentucky was settled. Those modern lines never seem to get old – in spite of their simplicity. Nice Sycamore to the left, as well.

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I’m closing it down for now – I have 100 or so pictures and have really just begun. Tomorrow – or next post – I will deal with a most revelatory discovery – an absolutely unique grove of Magnolia Soulangiana cultivars and hybrids – the range of blossoms was stunning – with colors from brilliant purple and white to yellow and even to – I kid you not – green blooms. Here’s one now.Bernheim Spring 095

Smothers Park Reprise – 2013

Once again, my travels took me back to my hometown where I am rather glacially performing a task of book-writing based around the myriad great accomplishments of my old high school coach and Kentucky schoolboy legend, Jack Hicks. But even though the task is slow, it is definitely taking shape as our interviews any more range delightfully into personal realms and to the fun stuff of specific games and favorites. I so look forward to spending time with Jack any more and his appreciation for the visits is reciprocated in spades.

Nearly every┬ávisit I make begins with a stop by the new riverfront park – Smothers Park – smack on the river in downtown Owensboro, a small city with an ego and a vision. My appreciation for the park grows as it matures and as its legend expands. Yet more stories circulated based around kids who don’t want to leave. Oh the tragedies! The humanity!! ­čśë

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The approaches from the street are universally thick with developing plantings, now reaching the second year stage which – for me at least – was always that stage where the eventual look of decades to come most reveals itself as the plants mature sufficiently to illustrate their eventual plumage and shapes. Certain definite judgments can be made at this time assessing the appropriatenss of the arrangements and selections surrounding hardscaped areas. With just a couple of exceptions, this park grades out spectacularly.

The red brick street and the contrasting color and structural elements of the tall thin grasses, replete with those gorgeous seed plumes, make for a contrast of planes and even motion, directing and protecting foot traffic most satisfactorily. The sandy colored wall blocks of the planters behind are soft and nearly unobtrusive, displaying more the colors they contain in the persons of gorgeous plants and their blooms.

Cool colors are also available with surprising alacrity as we cross the sidewalk/street threshold and walk deeper into the park.

The visual effort at cooling us off is pronounced and uniquely situated, even dappled with impossibly rangy blooms from the Variegated Hosta varieties which punctuate the view and influence the tenor with minimal effort. This is a really interesting area to me, taking such advantage of the desire to evade the heat in a typical very hot Summer of an average Owensboro year. Below, this testament is grossly enlarged upon as we visit the cool fountains, spritzing our kids and ourselves, most enjoyably. The fountains and water effects are literally everywhere.

I particularly enjoy the small fountain at the rear of the veteran’s area. Unobtrusive, it’s a complete surprise as we walk around the corner after regarding the well-achieved solemnity of the display which honors all vets from Owensboro – from every war, many of whom I am proud to say I also knew quite well.

I remember my first views of the park, from my initial visits which so fascinated this landscaper and landscape installer. I could watch that stuff for hours. And did! Naturally, I was quite pleased to see others doing the work instead of myself, in a burst of true honesty. I once laughed when someone asked me to describe a day at work and replied: “Oh, I guess I move around 10 tons of stuff a day from place to place.” ┬á­čśë

Really quite a change, is it not? These views are a totally accurate vision of what a landscape contractor sees of this world.

Back to modern life………..

I have always relished a certain Midwestern quality to the Owensboro geography. Huge sunsets and sunrises merge with the sheer flatness of the land itself and its agricultural bounty as a grain-producing center. But a┬áhot muggy and oh-so-lush Southern-style Summer climate and ambiance often overwhelm the senses as well. Great bourbon and beautiful women are commonly seen – at least by me!! And often! But then, of course, I actually look. It’s a curse.

Well, Smothers Park is a tribute to beauty. The expanses of gorgeous perennial blooms is rapidly becoming a signature element to this slice of gorgeousness.

I have long been a Black-Eyed Susan fan and it won’t be fading any time soon. I also have to say that the judicious use of modern hybrid grasses combines the softest edges structurally imaginable for these gorgeous beauties and produces a literal privacy for a Susan to do her work. In another 2 years, this area will be simply breathtaking.

I remember when I discovered the new landscaper passion for shrub Roses. Easy to grow, profoundly blossoming on a highly regular basis and – more importantly – integrating the most deep and fabulous reds, yellows and cream colors into hardy and low maintenance shrub beds, these plants are one of the true “coups” of landscaping and horticultural accomplishment. It has recently become possible to have roses almost wherever you want them. And to forget about them!!

I love the way the design on Smother Parks uses these shrub Roses so tastefully – as highlights and swatches of color above more routine surfaces, stressing not only elevation changes and material enclosures, but also their beauty in blooming.

There is just so much “Win!” in this gorgeous city block or two of life in Owensboro. Obviously, I consider it a rampant success, as my over-the-top praise often reveals. Yet, there is a reason for this. As someone who has constructed parks and playgrounds in the past, I have parlayed an excitement of owning an occasional child’s eye view of the world – my best trait – into converting that pleasure to the experience adults provide for a field of dreams. To my trained eye – deeply immersed in childishness!! – this is what a park is supposed to be.

I mean, this is bigger than me.

Barbecue – Owensboro Style

Officially known as “The International Barbecue Festival”, what once began as the world’s very most original Barbecue Festival (at least I had ever heard of), has become a well-oiled machine of smoke, smoke and more smoke and a┬ácarnivorous spectacle of truly epic proportions. The competition is lively and extremely well-attended as various teams prepare a uniquely Owensboro selection of meats and the Kentucky (gumbo-like) Burgoo with extreme focus and preparation. It’s a free picnic for thousands, with a truly delicious reward sold for less than restaurant fare – just better. The festival is an unending┬ápeople-watching thrill complete with a hundred sideshows from music to special custom and restored cars as well as those from the local race track, Owensboro’s legendary preparation grounds for NASCAR and even other racers such as Darryl and Mike Waltrip, the various Green brothers, Jeremy Mayfield and Nicky Hayden, world champion Gran Prix motorcyclist.

With an excellent Bluegrass/Gospel garage band behind me, my contribution to pictorial self-love below. Strains of plaintive Hank Williams (Sr.) tunes and gospels such as “I Saw The Light” poured out of these geezers like nobody’s business, occupying my friend Jason and myself no end as their sincerity blasted out like manna from Heaven. Yes, that is a barbecue stain on my sweatshirt.

Owensboro has long been known at least regionally as a center of excellent barbecue work. The Old Hickory Restaurant and the Moonlite Barbecue Restaurant have existed for decades, run by families who’ve had 3 and 4 generations plying their barbecue expertise to a grateful public. The surrounding farms of Owensboro have always supplied endless amounts of products, forming ┬áthe ingredients of the famous Burgoo, from the corn and onions to the Mutton, pork and chicken which form the 2 and 3 meat recipes of this incredible dish. Below, competitors prepare the soup for judging and for the public. It is Sunday morning now – I’m home and my stomach is still distended from all the “Judging” we did. ­čśë

As can be readily seen, this is no average soup-making.

The levels of production were truly off the charts. Below is the prep for the finished barbecued chicken, a major┬ádraw. It turned out – which I did not know – there was a specific time for a literal “finishing” of the process, after which the cooking part of the event would shut down. Chicken seemed to be the criterion, although there was ample pork and mutton being barbecued. Nevertheless, people such as ourselves gnoshed our way through and up until the magical 3 PM Chicken Deadline. We tried the Burgoo’s of the 2 past champions and were able to clearly declare a winner – which was filling and way cool. Room was left for further competitive devours, but it was becoming a close thing in my belly, frankly.

The Owensboro Fog of pure hickory smoke was alive and nearly overwhelming for those of us who got up close and personal to the teams doing their work. Needless to say, I still reek and the inside of my nose remembers the event in vivid detail.

Easily the most impressive part, as we toured the hard work of these teams, was the professionalism and coordination as they turned 30 whole chickens at a time using what looked like fence panels, rotating them over the large burning hickory chunks below. The temporary setups all seemed rather easy to assemble and break down, burning away in the middle of the street when completed, surrounding the local county Courthouse.

At the end – after 3 – the tear down commenced and was equally fascinating.

The thick layer of sand laid in as they built the walls of their cavernous pits protected the city street below as the hickory flamed out above it. Within two hours, the wood had burned down to ashes, a Bobcat came in and scooped the remainder of the affair into a truck or two and there was no trace of the event, outside of the lingering smell, a not-unpleasant smoky odor which will probably remain for a century or so. I mean, THAT was some smoke!

I brought home the First and Second Place chicken, lol. I wonder if I have the fortitude to attack it this early?

Oh, inasmuch as the entire event is so close by the Smothers Riverpark, I took my friend Jason around to check it out. It is doing very nicely indeed.

NOT in the park, but well worth a picture, was this cluster of Irises we encountered on our walk in. Something looking this good deserves a gratuitous inclusion, just for looking so ridiculously pretty.

Owensboro, Kentucky On A Roll

My home town of Owensboro has gotten the personal attention that I once figured was never going to take place. Before my move back to Kentucky 3 years ago, I was fairly permanently ensconced at the far end of 40 years Out West. Owensboro functioned as a sort of spiritual geography, studded by my old friends and classmates who all occupy various rooms in my Soul’s city of light.

Alas, much has changed. My home town is reinventing itself marvelously. I so approve!

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I now travel back and forth often, between Louisville and Owensboro. It is a gorgeous 115 mile trip across Southern Indiana, reminding me of how utterly mobile we were “back in the day” where a trip to Louisville or to see those partying friends in Bowling Green was an after thought. Owensboro in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was a car culture. The proliferation of highly successful NASCAR drivers, from my old buddy and fellow sinning teen, Darryl Waltrip, to his younger brother to the Green Family and Jeremy Mayfield completely exposed how naturally an Owensboro kid was born with hands wedded to a steering wheel, a smile on his face, the window down and all that beauty passing by alongside at 85 MPH. (And sometimes a LOT more). ­čśë

But dramatic events at the City Hall level of Planning have taken the small almost Midwestern city into a fascinating direction featuring a Tourism effort of interesting merit. Owensboro has constructed the Bluegrass Music Hall Of Fame – a gorgeous brick edifice honoring the music of the area and state made so famous by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and the raft of newer musicians whose validation of this regional form of music has become so popular that Europe and Asia have gigantic followings and performers. There are a procession of year-’round events focused there to meet the other noteworthy classic events such as the Barbecue Cookoff’s which attract tens of thousands of folks.

But they have also constructed a centerpiece – a recreational small wonder which is most definitely right up my alley: Smothers Park. Bold and eye-catching, with abundant children features including the world’s creepiest trees and a playground to absolutely die for, Smothers Park receives my highest personal award for landscape design. Human, eye-catching, modern, this riverside park hits a home run for excellence in design and functionality. As a badge of pride – like all landscaping – it gives a face to a city. This one is beautiful:

The sound alone of the rushing water over these steps in the above picture isolate one enough to savor something personal. The fetching and evocative quality of waterfalls which so fascinate us are exemplified in this structure which takes place ironically below our feet.

But water is a theme in more than one spot. A trio of modernistic ponds, hardscaped into the landscape, made from cement and made remarkably easy on the eyes by its deep dark color and curving lines are punctuated by alternating fountain displays.

Very cool.

The Monster Trees are a trip:

Almost any perspective is a complete winner. Of particular moment to me are the walking and the driving surfaces, all constructed simply to please the eye from an abundance of available angles.

Here is an outstanding detail which would figure I would love. I am – if nothing else – predictable.

An even better perspective, at one of the park’s various entry points displays even more the goal of the designers to capture our imagination at shoe level, in order to surprise us at the higher range – or lower.

I absolutely adore this new park. 10-15 years from now – not necessarily Olmstead’s 40 year window which he so focused on – will be the Ultimate in this park’s fully- developed ability to please the eye. With larger trees, fully developed grasses softening the periphery so well, these lawns will merge into a soft background for the hard achievements of the water features, the playground and the walking surfaces. For the present, however, that future is most definitely Now. And I think it really works.

More stuff, neat stuff………..

Well done, Owensboro!!