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New buildings of every purpose are changing the skyline at Eastern Kentucky University, but what’s happening at ground level is also important to the revitalization of the Richmond campus.

What was once a lackluster space lacking curb appeal along Lancaster Avenue has been transformed into an aesthetically pleasing introduction to the University.

It started last year with the addition of Turner Gate, a new pedestrian gateway at the intersection of Lancaster and Barnes Mill Road, and it continued this year with Carloftis Garden, for which dedication ceremonies were held on Friday, May 12.

A steady rain forced the event indoors to the Keen Johnson Building, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the speakers or attendees.

“When you come down Lancaster, you can’t help but go, ‘Wow,’” exclaimed Craig Turner, chair of the Board of Regents, whose generous donation with wife Madonna helped make the adjacent Turner Gate possible. Even the new-look traffic lights at the Lancaster-Barnes Mill intersection add to the visual appeal.

The garden, near the intersection of Lancaster and Park Drive and fronting New Martin Hall, is the first on any public university campus to bear the stamp of Jon Carloftis, an internationally renowned landscape designer who grew up in Rockcastle County and went on to become known as “Gardener to the Stars.”

Carloftis, who received an honorary doctor of humanities degree from EKU in 2014, echoed Turner’s sentiments.

“We wanted to do a garden that was a wow factor,” Carloftis said. “You want something that’s going to have an impact.”

EKU President Michael Benson recalled the words of German writer/philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but added his own twist: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, see a fine picture every day of his life, and spend time in Carloftis Garden, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

“To see it come to fruition is a dream come true,” Benson said.

The ceremony also included remarks from Nick Perlick, vice president for development and alumni relations, and Shalomel Achi, a junior public health major at Eastern.

“I’m thankful for the green spaces you’re making available to us,” Achi said. “I’ve seen Eastern be transformed, and I’ve come to love it more.”

Approximately 75 percent of the plants in the garden are native species, Carloftis noted. The garden also features twin fountains, one of which was donated by EKU alum Scott Northcutt to honor his wife, Anne, also an Eastern grad. The couple met on the Richmond campus in the 1980s.

Carloftis, who grew up along the banks of the Rockcastle River in the Appalachian foothills, launched his career as a rooftop garden designer in New York City and became known as one of America’s pioneers and leading authorities on small-space gardening.

He is the owner of Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens, with offices in Lexington and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as well as the Rockcastle River Trading Company, a popular home and garden store on his family’s property in Livingston, Kentucky.

Carloftis Garden is just one component of the University’s ongoing campus revitalization plan, which includes new academic facilities, residence halls and dining hall, as well as various aesthetic enhancements, among other current and planned projects, all designed to transform the living and learning experience for EKU students.