A Walk in the Park(lands)

Kentucky Coffee Tree Rondel.

By Laura Ross

Photos by Bob Hower

“We have such beautiful parks here,” mused philanthropist and chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks Dan Jones. “To choose a favorite? That’s impossible. It would be like choosing a favorite child.”

But, on a warm spring day, his sights might be set on Broad Run Park, the southernmost section of The Parklands of Floyds Fork, as the Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden celebrated its grand opening on May 10.

The Woodland Garden reveals the dynamic nature of Kentucky’s living woodland landscape and provides an immersive opportunity for discovery. Its design emphasizes the art of observation and the idea that a woodland landscape can be perceived as a series of rooms defined by trees, shrubs and other living layers.

“Stone walkways, a dry-laid stone bridge and an incredible mix of flora and scenery immerse visitors in nature,” said Jones.  

Part of the charm of the 15-acre garden is its commitment to authenticity. Planners took special steps to preserve the space, lightly editing existing flora and features before adding complementary plants and man-made wonders, including three tree rondels, two wooden decks with dynamic views of the landscape, a dry-laid stone bridge and two winding trails to guide visitors from room to room through the enchanting space.

“My primary idea was to use this already rich site to edit and create spaces, paths and destinations to reveal to visitors how much wonder there is in Kentucky woods, fields, streams and river edges,” said Rick Darke, project consultant and author of the acclaimed book, “The American Woodland Garden.”

More than 47,000 plants were installed to fill in the natural areas of the garden, complementing existing plants and trees such as a towering bur oak that is more than 125 years in age. The Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden is for hiking only – no bikes allowed – which encourages visitors to take their time as they travel along the garden’s winding trails.

Conceived in 2013, the Woodland Garden was designed by Louisville’s Bravura Architecture in consultation with Rick Darke. Parklands Horticulture Director Tom Smarr oversaw the project and assisted in the design. A total of 15 nurseries and landscape firms worked on the $2.1 million project since groundbreaking took place in 2016. Construction of the Woodland Garden was made possible thanks to donations from individuals and foundations including the Gibbs Foundation.

One of the largest and most ambitious metropolitan park projects in the nation, The Parklands is a dream realized by 21st Century Parks, which was established to create and preserve new parks that serve as city-shaping infrastructure.

“Between the areas for our active people space with the playgrounds and splash park and very natural spaces is the pivot of the Woodland Garden,” said Jones. “It’s in the absolute perfect natural place for gathering visitors. We hope generations of families will explore the Parklands and the Woodland Garden.” 

The Moss Gibbs Woodland Garden is located at 10702 Broad Run Pkwy. in Broad Run Park near Fern Creek. Visit www.theparklands.org for maps, trails, events and images of the Parklands.