Jon Carloftis may be a star in Manhattan’s competitive garden design trade, but he’s a Kentucky boy at heart. Known for lush country-in-the-city penthouse gardens created for the likes of Salma Hayek, Edward Norton, and Julianne Moore, he fills his designs with dramatic “forests” of river birch, fragrant cypress, and billowing grasses—a sharp contrast to the grit on the streets below. It’s a bucolic aesthetic, and one that was cultivated back home in his family’s garden in Livingston, Kentucky, a rural hamlet in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
That garden, sprawling and carefree, was part of an oasis his mother and father created a half century ago. “My parents wanted to own an ‘island’ of sorts—a place that was out of the city where we could run around,” says Carloftis of the fifty-acre homestead settled by the couple in 1955, surrounded on all sides by the Daniel Boone National Forest and set on the banks of the Rockcastle River. “I grew up completely surrounded by trees and bugs and flowers and learned to love plants on nature walks with my father when I was very young. All summer we just played on the river and helped with the family business. It was an incredible life.”