Win big at the Kentucky Derby? 6 things you should spend your money on in the garden

Picture of Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens Executive Director

Ok everybody . . . exhale. After two solid weeks of partying, it’s finally here – the day after . . .

We are wonderfully blessed to live in the Bluegrass State where the limestone water makes the world’s best bourbon and the planet’s fastest horses. And lest you think me to be some ne’er do well, Johnny Come Lately, jumper on of the Bluegrass bandwagon, transplanted New Yorker, I’ve been celebrating Derby as long as I can remember. Yes, even growing up in the Big Apple where nobody knows your name and everyone’s got an angle, In the Cappiello household we always marked that first Saturday in May to roll out the Scungilli Fra Diavolo, struffoli, black and white cakes, celery soda and other occasion-appropriate snacks – all to celebrate Derby from a billion miles away.

But either way, we have now made it through Derby season. Through boat races and a Kingfish meal on the banks of the Belle Riviere to the annual prayers offered to St Bruno – the patron saint of (Derby-Day) parking spaces, we did it and we did it all in style.

But if you’re like me and every year you hit it big at the track, you’re probably now sitting on the back terrace, slippered feet up on the railing, sipping a Bloody Mary and wondering just what to do with all those winnings. And knowing full well that if you’re reading this column on the day after Derby, you’re likely a no-holds-barred gardener, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions on how you might use some of that cash to give your garden a bit of a boost. And being the thoughtful and considerate guy that I am, I offer suggestions for just about every budget.

$1,000,000 - $50,000,000

Jeff Koons Gazing Ball Sculpture (van Gogh Wheatfield With Crows) Every garden needs a gazing ball, don’t you think? Of course some can be had for a mere pittance at the local big box store, but if you’re looking to make a Derby-scale statement in the garden, how about one of this provocateur’s reinterpretations of some of the great Master works of fine painting. Each painting, painstakingly recreated by the artist, is fronted with a glowing blue, hand-blown glass gazing ball, offering a skewed reflection of both painting and observer. But given the price tag of these offerings, I’d hide the Cheeze Wiz before next year’s Derby party.


Hartley Victorian greenhouse for your back yard What gardener doesn’t need a greenhouse? And if you’re gonna go for the greenhouse, why go for essentially a glorified plastic shed. Why not go all in. And the nice thing is, when you drop this kind of cash on a greenhouse it really does take care of itself. Its mechanicals never break down during a winter cold snap, its potted plants never need water when you go away for a month-long trip to Bali, and best of all, it never gets too hot during a blisteringly sunny August Kentucky day. Why, it’ll even walk your dog for you if you get stuck late at the office from time to time. Shangri La in a box. What else could be a better gift for the Derby-winning-ticket holder?

$20,000 - $80,000

Add a Koi pond and waterfall to your garden Ok, ok . . . those first two might be a tiny bit over the top, but this one is certainly easy to justify. I mean how many years of college do the kids really need you to cover? I’d say why not get them through a year or two at most. After that they should certainly be able to pay for the next two . . . or three . . . or ten years with a good stint as a neighborhood barista. You deserve this one . . . you really do. Think of your emotional health . . .


BCS Model 732 rear-tine rototiller with electronic start, double-cone spring loaded clutch, dual forward and reverse working speeds and powered by a Kohler Command Pro CH396 engine If you’re the kind of gardener who likes to challenge the forces of physics through gardening, this is right up your alley. After all, if you’re gonna drag a tiller back and forth across the garden to work in that compost or last year’s crop stubble, don’t you deserve the very best. Ok, it’s $5 grand . . . for a tiller. I get that it might seem a little unreasonable. But let’s do a little math here. If you spend 20 hours every spring and fall, hand turning your garden beds, working in compost and otherwise trying to turn Kentucky modeling clay into something that might accidentally, someday, actually be able to support growth of some thoroughly indestructible crop plant, and you do that every year for the next 20 years, that’s something like 422,365 light years of back-breaking work that, when you really think about it, is really not in the best interest of your health. Doesn’t your doctor always tell you to work smarter, not
harder . . . to not abuse your joints, your back, etc.? No, of course not. This is not some crazy, mid life crisis toy to gaze lovingly at while sitting on a lawn chair in your garage. This is a bona fide investment in your health and well being. Seems like a pretty straightforward decision when you look at it that way . . .


Antique French copper watering can Ok, I know . . . One thousand dollars for a watering can? But honestly, you’ve just spent $5 large on a garden tiller. A thousand-dollar watering can seems downright cheap in that light. And just think how good it will make you feel. Every time you pick up that budget baby, your hands will be physically connected to all those gardeners from yesteryear who lovingly had their downtrodden staff haul it half a mile at a time to bring water to their distant gardens.


Burgon and Ball Border Spade and Digging Fork But if after considering all the items above, if you decide to use your Derby winnings to pay for something frivolous, like paying off your mortgage, fixing your car’s transmission or finally replacing that sliding glass door that has been sticking in the same place for the last 10 years, here’s one you shouldn’t pass up. According to their website, Burgon and Ball has been “. . . working with steel in Sheffield since 1730 . . .” I think they’ve figured it out by now. And the border spade, being just a touch smaller than the full digging spade, is brilliant. And hey, its handle has been tested to 90kg of breaking force. I think that’s something like 200,000 quarks . . .

Happy (post) Derby!

This article was originally submitted to the Courier Journal on April 7, 2023.

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