There are some places that you just can’t help but leave with a smile, and I recently found one of them in Livingston, Kentucky. Perhaps the smile was because of the beautifully landscaped path that led me to a little red house just off Old Dixie Highway. Perhaps it was the three friendly rescue dogs that greeted me at the door. Perhaps it was the carefully chosen home and garden decor displayed around the shop. Or, more likely, it was the warm welcome and nice conversation that I enjoyed with the shopkeepers on a perfect fall afternoon.
Established in 1955, the Rockcastle River Trading Company (and its predecessor, Fort Sequoyah) have been owned and operated by the Carloftis family since their inception. I stopped in on my way from London, Kentucky to Lexington, Kentucky one fall afternoon and was happy to meet Lucille Carloftis, who started Fort Sequoyah with her late husband Carlo, and one of her sons, Buzz Carloftis. You may be familiar with another of Lucille’s sons, famed garden designer Jon Carloftis, who has authored three books and designed rooftop and land gardens from Kentucky to New York and beyond.
I first learned of Rockcastle River Trading Company when I heard Jon Carloftis speak at the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual Antiques & Garden Show. Jon is originally from Rockcastle County, and although he had moved away to NYC for many years, it struck me that he seemed to never have left his Kentucky roots. I especially liked that his mother was one of his honored guests, and he thanked her during his presentation. Despite the advanced landscape designs that helped him rise in popularity, Jon spoke of gardening and landscaping tips in a way that anyone could feel comfortable using them, including making sure to add some “whimsy” and a water feature to any green space, which are both things that I’ve tried to incorporate in my home landscaping ever since.
After hearing Jon speak of his family’s Rockcastle River Trading Company, I was excited to stop by for a visit. I couldn’t have picked a better fall day, with the sun shining, the leaves beginning to turn, and the temperature just right for the slight breeze that followed the resident dogs as they ventured in and out of the store’s open doors. The store itself is a delightful mix of garden and home decor, carefully styled in a way that invites customers to consider how things might look in their own homes. Lucille and Buzz were in the early stages of preparing for the holiday season, and I happily brought home a handmade fox ornament for our tree this year (I have a thing for Fantastic Mr. Fox). They welcomed me to take a look around the store and then to explore the surrounding gardens that back up to the Rockcastle River about fifty yards away.
As expected, Jon and his family did a wonderful job creating a welcoming garden space complete with a water feature and a lot of whimsy. My favorite bits of whimsy were the antique truck and the concrete Pug dog that welcomes visitors as they come back up the stairs from the garden, plus the two live dogs that looked up from their sunbathing to allow me to take a quick picture. Lucille and Buzz also encouraged me to explore the area beyond the shop’s garage, across a wooden bridge and under an intricate vine trellis to see the Carloftis’ family home and a neighboring one-room school-house that they preserved.
All of these things were quite wonderful, but perhaps the best part of my visit was chatting with Lucille and Buzz about their dogs and their family. After just a few minutes of talking, we discovered that both of our families trace back to the Baker family name in eastern Kentucky, and I learned that they share my love of taking care of rescued animals. They also gave me ideas for a couple of Wanderlust adventures that I plan to take next spring — visiting the Great Saltpetre Cave nearby is definitely on my list.
If you live in the area, or even if you’re just passing through, I encourage you to stop by the Rockcastle River Trading Company for a visit. It’s a delightful place just a couple of minutes off I-75, and the warm welcome of the Carloftis family is sure to have you leave with the same smile on your face that I had on mine!
© 2015 Amelia Adams