Yew Dell is Inspiring passion and sustainability

Yew Dell is Inspiring passion and sustainability

In 1941, Theodore and Martha Lee Klein purchased 34 acres of Oldham County farmland to establish their nursery, farm and home. Over several decades they built a thriving business and a shining jewel of horticulture, architecture and history. Following the passing of Martha Lee and then Theodore in the late 1990s, the property was under threat of being developed. A local group of passionate and forward-thinking citizens recognized the importance and potential of the property and worked to acquire and develop it into a world class botanical garden. With thousands of visitors annually from all across the globe, Yew Dell is now recognized by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, cited as a top 10 Destination Garden by Horticulture Magazine, Southern Living Magazine’s Best of the South, with educational programs recognized by the US Department of Education and a long list of architectural awards for sensitive and innovative rehabilitation, Yew Dell Botanical Gardens has become one of the most recognized institutions in the region.  It is a unique part of Oldham County’s Garden & Nature Preserve Tours experience.

Yew Dell announces campaign to transform land around iconic castle, improving passion and sustainability

By Bobbie Curd
The Oldham Era
Monday, May 2, 2022

The nonprofit Yew Dell Botanical Gardens is much more than just a pretty piece of land, Manda Barger says — it’s a way to inspire others.

The nonprofit is celebrating 20 years of operation and has launched a campaign with the plans to transform property around its castle in order to make it completely accessible for all.

The internationally recognized center of gardening, plants and education let the community in on its Castle Gardens Campaign earlier in April, on National Gardening Day.”

“But the big story is the connection with our community,” says Barger, public relations and marketing manager for Yew Dell. She says that two decades ago, the land was almost about the developed into a subdivision, or strip malls.

“A group in the community came together, said it’s such a beautiful area, such a tie here to plants, gardens and natural beauty — they wanted to turn it into a nonprofit.”

Barger says that since then, “we’ve been spending our time helping develop this gem of the local community.” There have been five previous campaigns, all focused on the buildings and renovation to turn a private property into a public space.

“We’re excited that this is the first time it’s a project focused just on the garden displays around the castle … and accessibility is at the forefront.” The project design process is being led by Land Morphology, a firm out of Seattle, Washington with a national and international reputation for ground-breaking design and exuberant style. President & CEO Richard Hartlage said that “to work on such an exciting project in my hometown is an honor.”

Barger says turning private property into publicly accessible land includes a lot of grunt work. “And work that not everyone notices, like ramp space, ADA accessible bathrooms …” and things like turning walkways into acceptable wheelchair paths.

Photo caption:  Theodore Klein working on his castle.

After completed, the transformation will allow visitors to get “all the way from the administration house to the castle, then down to the overlook garden without having to take the stairs that were made in the ‘50s,” Barger says.

“And we’re adding a lot of garden displays, and at least one water features. We’re taking it to the next level …”

Barger says that if Yew Dell learned anything out of COVID, “it’s that people didn’t know they had such a green thumb. That’s how we were able to survive the pandemic — people found out how much they love plants and gardening, and we love sparking a passion out of that.”

Finding a hobby and passion you didn’t know you had is important, Barger says, but during the pandemic — it was paramount. “It can be a new medium and way to be artistic, plus the science behind it appeals to some.”

She says not only does Yew Dell want to show visitors beauty, “we want to inspire people to get into it.”
Barger is actually working on developing her own green thumb. “So I’m a bit biased, in saying plants are amazing, so I’m glad people are realizing it.”

A former broadcast journalist, Barger and her husband relocated to Kentucky in 2019. She took a chance, and found a new career out of it.

“The education aspect and science aspect attracted me to Yew Dell … The science of learning how cool they are — how they can move and have their own behavior …”

Barger hopes others can see the big picture of gardening with her. She says it’s so much more important than growing things that are pretty.

“Making gardening accessible to everyone … in the long run, the more people who learn how to plant, we could be inspiring the next generation to find out where plants are going to grow. It’s important.”

Yew Dell has a full listing of workshops and classes offered, like landscaping series or flower arrangements. Summer programs include hiking trails, where visitors can learn about the plants they see.

“We also have some volunteer opportunities for organizations, like Girl Scouts or church groups, even corporations like UPS are doing service projects out here,” Barger says. “And they get to work with some of the best people in horticulture.”

Yew Dell is working on approaching donors and sponsors to help with the Castle Campaign, and there’s a link on its website where the public can find out more about the initiative and how they can participate.

People who aren’t able to donate money can also donate time. “We try to make the volunteer experience pretty awesome,” Barger says, and with about 60 acres, more than 10 displays, including a solar-powered, geothermal glass house, there’s plenty of room for all.

“We’ve spent the last 20 years creating award-winning architecture, rehabilitating the grounds, and building a strong and sustainable organization,” Executive Director Paul Cappiello says. “Now we’re ready to give the gardens the same treatment with stunning new gardens that will further our mission — to spark a passion for plants and gardens through accessible science and inspiring beauty.”

To find out more about Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, visit More on its Castle Gardens Capital Campaigns can be found under “get involved.”


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