‘A rare gem.’ How Kentucky’s Yew Dell plans to turn its 60-acres into a ‘jewel of a garden’

‘A rare gem.’ How Kentucky’s Yew Dell plans to turn its 60-acres into a ‘jewel of a garden’

With its enchanting stone castle, spell-binding tunnel of shade trees, knee-high fairy houses and hundreds of butterflies fluttering between vast and varied garden spaces — if ever there was a secret garden in Kentucky, this is it.


Kirby Adams
Louisville Courier Journal
June 27, 2022

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 places in the Bluegrass State set on 60-acres.

And now it’s planning to grow.

Protecting and enhancing this magnificent space falls on the shoulders of Yew Dell’s executive director, Paul Cappiello. With horticultural expertise and patience, Cappiello and his team have spent the past 20 years transforming the former farm and home of the late Theodore Klein (left) into a public space and research garden.

“For the first 20 years, we really needed to rescue the property by rehabilitating the grounds, building a strong and sustainable organization and bringing all of the buildings back to the state that they really deserve,” Cappiello told the Courier Journal. “It was the responsible thing to do and to date, every one of the buildings has been an award-winning architectural project. Now it’s time to bring the gardens to the same world class level.”

That’s not to say the internationally recognized center of gardening, plant research and education isn’t already exceptional, but Cappiello and the Yew Dell team are determined to enhance the property during the next phase of the local landmark’s improvements.

“Yew Dell, with its history, its artistry in the architecture and garden work is a rare gem, ” Cappiello said. “I travel to gardens all over the world so I can tell you this is the kind of package you just don’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 Oldham County farmland to build their home, start a farm/nursery and raise their children. That original piece of property is what formed the core of what is now Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. An avid plant collector, Klein developed what would become one of the most successful ornamental plant nurseries in the region, specializing in yews and hollies. The whimsical stone castle on the property is indicative of Klein’s attention to detail and sense of humor. He built the small castle to use as a pool house next to the family’s swimming pool.

When Klein died in 1998 at 93-years-old, developers swooped in and threatened the property. That’s when a board of community volunteers who recognized the unique attributes of Yew Dell got busy and raised the funds to purchase the property and then began the longer-term plan to restore and share its treasures with the public.

Additionally, the distinctive nature of the property was recognized by The Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit dedicated to saving America’s most unique gardens. In 2010, Yew Dell was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was named by Horticulture Magazine as one of the nation’s top Destination Gardens.

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 toward the grounds just beyond the driveway where the castle pool house stands and explains the next steps in Yew Dell’s development.

“The capital campaign is to take our core magical spot, that’s the area right around the castle, and turn it into a jewel of a garden,” he said. “We’re tripling the garden space and adding water features and better accessibility, which will allow us to also double the number of people we can accommodate for a large event. Large events are a big part of what helps us support Yew Dell.”

The garden project design will be led by Seattle, Washington based “Land Morphology,” one of the hottest landscape design firms in the country.

“The stuff that they do is so innovative, it’s just mind blowing,” Cappiello said.

Land Morphology President & CEO Richard Hartlage grew up two miles from Yew Dell and knew Theodore Klein. He credits the time he spent on the property as a young man with inspiring him to pursue his career in horticulture.

“To work on such an exciting project in my hometown is an honor,” Hartlage said. “This new series of gardens will provide dynamic garden rooms for visitors with visually stunning plant displays to inspire and educate. These gardens will set a new standard for public spaces in the region.”

The Castle Campaign will also fund a new entrance to Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and allow the gardens to add a full-time horticulturist to the staff.

“It doesn’t do you any good to build a world-class garden if you can’t maintain 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 staff position.”

Because of its natural beauty, Yew Dell is a wonderful setting for weddings, special occasion celebrations, corporate meetings and other events as well as a serene spot to visit on your own to linger, contemplate and learn about the natural world. To learn more about Yew Dell’s Castle Garden Campaign visit yewdellgardens.org.

“We’re ready to build stunning new gardens that will further our mission,” said Cappiello. “To spark a passion for plants and gardens through accessible science and inspiring beauty.”

Reach Kirby Adams at kadams@courier-journal.com or Twitter @kirbylouisville

How to donate to Yew Dell 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 Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and allow the gardens to add a full-time horticulturist to the staff.

WHERE: 6220 Old Lagrange Road, Crestwood

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 12-4 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

TO DONATE: To learn more about Yew Dell’s Castle Garden Campaign, visit yewdellgardens.org.


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