September 16, 2010

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When the budget for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was cut in July, one area that took a hit was plants and ornamentals for decorations. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Department of Horticulture stepped up to help and began gathering donations and growing what thy could to make the event beautiful.

“Our department recognized how important the games are to this city, to this state,” said Robert Houtz, chair of the UK Department of Horticulture. “We knew we had the resources and dedicated people who could help beautify the games.”

Games officials contacted the UK College of Agriculture and provided a wish list detailing what they hoped to see at the venues. UK Extension Floriculture Specialist Sharon Bale began working with UK Horticulture Research Farm Manager Darrell Slone to determine just what the department and the farm could do.

“We really wanted to help out, but time was short and we had to assemble things quickly,” Bale said. “We were glad we could be a part of creating a welcoming environment for guests who attend the games.”

UK student farm workers have been working with Janet Pfeiffer, Kirk Ranta, Bale and Slone to gather about four tractor-trailer loads of various plant materials that will make their way to the equestrian games’ venues this weekend.

“We emptied greenhouses and borrowed plants from UK Physical Plant Division,” Bale said. “We’re sending broom corn, foddershocks, field corn, morning glories, beans… so many items that officials can put together to create beautiful displays of Kentucky plants.”

To get an idea of the vast quantity of plants on the way, Bale said they are sending more than 70 containerized, full-grown hydrangeas, 1,000 pots of petunias, several 30-inch pots with varied arrangements, 85 pots of periwinkles, 100 pots of sweet potato vines to layer in other arrangements and a variety of other items harvested from UK College of Agriculture farms.

“I’m really proud of the way our people have been able to pull all of this together so quickly,” said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research, director of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and administrative leader for UK's Equine Initiative. “We’ve supported the games in many important ways since their inception, and this is just another way the UK College of Agriculture tries to be a good partner.”

Bale emphasized that other college departments were involved with the project as well.

“It takes a village to rise to this type of challenge, and horticulture has received help from other areas in the college as well, such as biosystems and agricultural engineering, plant and soil sciences, the farm crew at Maine Chance Farm, and of course we had help from Ted Walker in facilities management to get the items from the farms to the games,” Bale explained. “Really, everything we asked for, we received; you can’t ask for anything more.”

World Equestrian Games officials were grateful for the help the college was able to provide.

“We are very, very grateful to Nancy Cox, Sharon Bale and the UK College of Agriculture, especially the horticulture department, for their generous donation of plants and flowers and, most especially, the expertise and physical labor they have given to this project,” said Kate Jackson, vice president and competition director for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. “The whole presentation of the jumping and dressage competitions will be glorious, thanks to UK.”

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin Sept. 25 in Lexington.