With its enchanting stone castle, mesmerizing tunnel of shady trees, knee-high fairy houses and hundreds of butterflies fluttering between vast and varied garden areas – if there ever was a secret garden in Kentucky, that’s it.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the award-winning Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road in Crestwood, is one of the most serene and magical locations in the Bluegrass State.
And now it plans to grow.
Protecting and enhancing this magnificent space falls on the shoulders of Paul Cappiello, Yew Dell Executive Director. With horticultural expertise and patience, Cappiello and his team have spent the last 20 years transforming the former farm and home of the late Theodore Klein into a public space and research garden.
“In the first 20 years, we really had to save the property by rehabilitating the site, building a strong and sustainable organization, and restoring all the buildings to the condition they truly deserve,” Cappiello told Courier Journal. “It was responsible, and to this day each of the buildings has been an award-winning architectural project. Now is the time to bring the gardens up to the same world-class level.”
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That’s not to say the internationally recognized center for gardening, plant research and education isn’t already exceptional, but Cappiello and the team at Yew Dell are committed to enhancing the property in the next phase of improvements to the local landmark.
“Yew Dell is a rare gem with its history, architectural artistry and gardening,” said Cappiello. “I travel to gardens all over the world so I can tell you this is the type of packaging you won’t find anywhere else and people are starting to realize what a gem it really is.”
In 1941, Theodore and Martha Lee Klein bought 34 acres of farmland in Oldham County to build their home, start a farm/nursery, and raise their children. This original property formed the core of what is now the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. An avid plant collector, Klein developed one of the region’s most successful ornamental plant nurseries, specializing in yew and holly. The quirky stone castle on the property is a testament to Klein’s attention to detail and sense of humor. He built the small castle to use as a pool house next to the family swimming pool.
When Klein died in 1998 at the age of 93, developers rushed in and threatened the property. It was at this point that a panel of community volunteers, recognizing Yew Dell’s unique qualities, went to work raising funds to purchase the property and then began a longer-term plan to restore its treasures and open them to the public share.
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In addition, the property’s distinctiveness has been recognized by The Garden Conservancy, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving some of America’s most unique gardens. In 2010, Yew Dell was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was named one of the nation’s top Destination Gardens by Horticulture Magazine.
Everything grows at its own pace, and while the past two decades have been dedicated to preserving the Kentucky property, The Castle Gardens Campaign plans to raise $5 million to fund a new collection of gardens, water features, educational opportunities and more.
Standing on the stone steps of the former Klein family home, Cappiello points to the grounds just beyond the driveway where the castle’s pool house stands, and explains the next steps in the development of Yew Dell.
“The capital campaign is designed to take our core magical location, which is the area right around the castle, and turn it into a jewel of a garden,” he said. “We’re tripling the garden area and adding water features and better accessibility, which also allows us to double the number of people we can accommodate for a large event. Big events are a big part of what helps us support Yew Dell.”
The design of the garden project is being led by Seattle, Washington-based Land Morphology, one of the hottest landscape design companies in the country.
“The stuff they make is so innovative, it’s just mind-blowing,” Cappiello said.
Richard Hartlage, President and CEO of Land Morphology, grew up two miles from Yew Dell and knew Theodore Klein. He credits the time spent on the property as a young man with the inspiration to continue his career in horticulture.
“It’s an honor to work on such an exciting project in my hometown,” said Hartlage. “This new series of gardens will offer visitors dynamic garden spaces with visually stunning plant displays that inspire and enlighten. These gardens will set a new standard for public space in the region.”
The Castle Campaign will also fund a new entrance to the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and allow the gardens to add a full-time gardener to the staff.
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“It’s no use building a world-class garden if you can’t keep it in world-class condition,” Cappiello said. “One of the things we’ve become known for is high-end management of the gardens and we want to make sure we can continue that with the addition of a full-time position.”
Because of its natural beauty, Yew Dell is a wonderful place for weddings, special occasion celebrations, corporate meetings and other events, as well as a quiet place to visit on your own to linger, reflect and learn about nature. To learn more about Yew Dell’s Castle Garden Campaign, visit yewdellgardens.org.
“We are ready to build stunning new gardens that will advance our mission,” said Cappiello. “Sparking a passion for plants and gardens through accessible science and inspiring beauty.”
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville.
How to donate to Yew Dell’s Castle Garden campaign
WHAT: The Castle Gardens Campaign at Yew Dell Botanical Garden plans to raise $5 million to fund a new collection of gardens, water features, educational opportunities and more. It will also fund a new entrance to the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and allow the gardens to add a full-time gardener to the staff.
WHERE: 6220 Old Lagrange Road, Crestwood
HOURS: 10am to 4pm Tuesday-Saturday; Sunday 12pm-4pm, Monday closed
DONATE: To learn more about Yew Dell’s Castle Garden Campaign, visit yewdellgardens.org.