Beginning with 33-acres of Oldham County farmland in 1941, Theodore and Martha Lee Klein spent the next 60-plus years developing an exquisite private estate, a successful commercial nursery and an extensive collection of unusual plants and outstanding gardens. Known locally, nationally and internationally as a first-rate plantsman, Theodore Klein was also a self-taught artisan who personally crafted the buildings and gardens that became known as Yew Dell.
Through the years, Klein collected over one thousand unusual specimen trees and shrubs which were displayed and evaluated in his arboretum and gardens. He also worked to develop new plant varieties for the regional landscape, amassing an impressive list of more than 60 unique introductions over his professional career.
Above, this early 1950s photograph shows the recently completed Castle (left) and nearby pool and developing Sunken Garden. The Klein residence is visible in the center of the image with formal topiary gardens (no longer extant) in the upper right. The lath (shade) structure on the right was used to protect newly-propagated plants through the fist winter. That space now serves as the Event Lawn.
Almost immediately following Klein's death in 1998, development pressures began to threaten the property, which had been zoned industrial. Recognizing the unique attributes of Yew Dell, a board of community volunteers raised the funds to purchase the property, and then began the longer term plan to restore Yew Dell Gardens and share its treasures with the public. The unique nature of the property was further recognized by The Garden Conservancy, a national non-profit dedicated to saving America's most unique gardens. The Conservancy named Yew Dell a Preservation Project, at the time one of only nine such projects in the nation. In 2010 Yew Dell was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Starting in 2002 with a small board and a staff of a half-time office worker, Yew Dell now has a full contingent of full and part-time staff dedicated to fundraising, events, visitor services . . . and of course, horticulture. As part of its ongoing education and training program, Yew Dell hires each year several summer interns (marketing, horticulture, events), one or more full year horticulture apprentices as well as international garden/horticulture interns.
The Gardens Klein developed gardens that covered a wide range of styles. Formal topiary gardens, a traditional English Walled Garden and Yew Dell's signature Serpentine Garden provided a ready pallet for new plant evaluation. Today, most of the gardens have been rehabilitated and serve as trials for the endless supply of new plant varieties tested by Yew Dell Staff. Several new gardens have been added to expand display opportunities and to provide additional plant evaluation capacity.
A Passion for Plants Yew Dell is committed to bringing the best the garden plant world has to offer to visitors, gardeners and the regional community. Continuing Klein's passion for new and better plants, Yew Dell's staff continues Klein's work with a wide-range of collections and evaluation projects and constant experimentation with new and better plants for the regional landscape.