Genius Among Us
to be preserved at Yew Dell Gardens
Helen E. McKinney
CRESTWOOD, Ky. (December 2002) Theodore Klein achieved
international repute as an acclaimed nurseryman and horticulturist.
But to many Oldham Countians, he was known as the generous guy next
Many of his neighbors may not have known how close to genius the late
Klein really was in his everyday occupation. But now a select group
of citizens have recognized him and want to share his knowledge with
In October, the Friends of Yew Dell committee was organized
under the auspices of the Oldham County Historical Society. Its members
included Kleins daughter, Marian Klein Koehler, along with Karen
Whitty, Paul Clinton, Sue Brown and Mary Rounsavall. Their mission was
to buy and restore the gardens and arboretum resting on a 33-acre portion
of Kleins original 200-acre farm on North Camden Lane in Crestwood,
Klein had purchased the property in 1941 with his wife, Martha Lee.
After Kleins death in 1998 at age 93, his property went unkempt.
The committee established its mission to restore the farm to its former
grandeur. Members must raise $4.8 million to restore and maintain the
Dell Gardens at a Glance
Theodore Klein was born on July 16, 1905, into a family that
had emigrated in the late 1800s from Germany and settled in
the Cincinnati area. His grandfather worked for Nicholas Longworth
in the then thriving vineyards of the region. When these vineyards
failed, the family moved to Oldham County, Ky.
Theodores wife, Martha Lee, was from Shelby County,
Ky. Through hard work and the popularity of his Japanese Yew
trees, the couple bought their farm in 1941 in Crestwood. The
farm is now known as Yew Dell Gardens.
Over the years Klein found success in his nursery business,
marketing hollies and yews to the nurseries and landscapers
throughout the area. He planted more than 1,137 specimens of
rare trees and shrubs in his arboretum. These were collected
from friends and new cultivars of his own propagating efforts.
He introduced to the nursery trade new varieties of redbuds,
dogwoods, maples and hollies. There are 114 different genera,
240 species and 528 cultivars and selections represented.
Klein was also a wood turner and stonemason. He built
a small stone castle as a pool house, relocated a log cabin
from nearby Brownsboro, and built bermed greenhouses, barns
and his own fieldstone cotswalds-style home.
Efforts are under way to assemble oral and written histories
of Kleins family in order to develop museum-type interpretive
panels and exhibits. Since its conception, Yew Dell Inc. has
developed a capital campaign to buy and fund Yew Dell Gardens
with a total cost of $4.8 million $1 million for purchase
of the property, $500,000 for initial operating costs, $2.3
million for renovations of the main home, castle, gardens, 10-acre
arboretum and site development, and a $1 million endowment.
Yew Dell Inc.s 15-member board is from Jefferson
and Oldham counties. An advisory committee includes professional
horticulturists, landscapers and arborists.
Kristian Fenderson, a member of the Garden Conservancys
Preservation Screening committee, compared Yew Dell to several
delightful late 19th century or early 20th century nurserymens
gardens in Belgium and Holland.
Volunteer Days are held the second Saturday of each month
for anyone who is interested. Contributions can be sent to Yew
Dell Inc., P.O. Box 1334, Crestwood, KY 40014.
The committee has now evolved into Yew Dell Inc., a nonprofit
organization that depends heavily upon volunteers to make the initial
dream a success. Its amazing how theyve pulled it
all together, said Holly Cooper, Kleins granddaughter.
Cooper sits on the board of directors for Yew Dell Inc. and said that
the preservation of her grandfathers estate is so gratifying.
She said it gives her and her family a sense of pride to know there
are individuals who were affected enough by Klein to want to continue
his work in the field of horticulture and preserve his legacy.
One major way in which Yew Dell Inc. members have carried out this plan
is by appointing Paul Cappiello as their executive director. Cappiellos
achievements in the horticultural industry made him the perfect choice,
said Cooper. He answered our ideals. Papa would be so pleased.
Cappiello, 40, began his duties Dec. 1. This is a great honor
and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he said. Any chance
to be involved at the beginning of such a project and watch it grow
for the long term is an opportunity worth pursuing.
Cappiello has his work cut out for him, as do all involved with this
project. One major ongoing task is identifying and cataloging more than
1, 137 individual specimens in Yew Dells vast plant collection.
Klein was constantly researching the more than 240 species of trees
and shrubs planted on his farm. He developed new versions of holly,
yew, redbud, dogwood, sugar maple, weeping katsura and witchhazel, among
others. Part of his estate was devoted to a repository of historic trees.
Klein donated many hollies for the now famous Bernheim holly collection
one of the largest in the nation, said Cappiello. Cappiello has
been the horticulture director at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
in Bullitt County, Ky., for the past five years.
One of two grants from the Kentucky Division of Forestry enabled Clinton,
owner of Beechwood Trees and Gardens, to begin the inventorying process.
He said the $30,000 grant money had been awarded to Yew Dell Inc. to
aid in funding the development of strategic planning as well. Clinton
was one of many young nurserymen whom Klein took under his wing. He
was a very, very kind man, said Clinton. When you would
visit him, he would take you out and show you what was interesting.
Kleins willingness to share his knowledge and enthusiasm about
trees and plants is what drew Suzette White to him. White owns her own
landscape business, Nature By Design, and, like Clinton, considers Klein
her mentor. He always had time for you, no matter who you were,
she said. Whites knowledge has earned her the position of the
chair of the Yew Dell Horticultural Advisory Committee, as well as a
position on the board of directors.
She said Yew Dell Gardens is such a treasure, and so much the
life of Theodore. It would be hard to see his work destroyed.
That is why she is so intensely interested in being a member of the
organization that will preserve Kleins work. She cited the Garden
Conservancy as having been a huge help in trying to get a formulation
and direction for Yew Dell.
Mary Rounsavall, president of Yew Dell Inc., said that Yew Dell was
recently designated as one of nine gardens nationwide to become a Partnership
Project of the Garden Conservancy. She said the conservancy is a national
nonprofit organization founded to help preserve Americas
Rounsavall said the conservancy is a great resource in terms of advice
and availability. The organization has the ability to do just
what they say they will do, she said.
Yew Dell Inc. has many goals for the future. One is to implement an
entire curriculum with the school system in mind, said Clinton.
He and the other board and committee members would like to see special
programs instituted at Yew Dell in the form of educational classes,
lectures, workshops, demonstrations and summer camps.
Rounsavall said the fanciful setting of Yew Dell Garden could also be
a future site for weddings, receptions, community meetings and special
Because Theodore was such an educational person, always teaching
how a particular plant does in this area an so forth, we want to continue
this educational quality, White said.
Everyone came to him for an education, said Cooper. This
property and its lifestyle are endangered. It matters that it lives
Cooper described spending weekends at Kleins farm while growing
up as idyllic. It was a treat to her to come from Louisville
to the country for the entire weekend where her grandmother raised vegetables,
all kinds of animals were underfoot and cousins gathered to play.
Klein was a spontaneous man, often jumping up from the table to take
a call or grab his cap and go out the door, she said. His
willingness to help at a moments notice drew many people to him.
He would often bring trades people in to set around the table with his
family and discuss his work.
She grew up on the farm when it was a working nursery, all abuzz with
activity and learning. But she didnt have any idea at the time
just how important her grandfather was outside of the family.
From these experiences, Cooper said she learned to feel just what motivated
her grandfather. I feel it, too. It was a thirst for learning.
Klein was born July 16, 1905, into a family that had emigrated in the
late 1800s from Germany to settle in Cincinnati. His grandfather had
worked in the then-thriving vineyards of that region, but when the vineyard
business began to fail, the family moved to Oldham County.
It was Theodores family trade to grow things, said
Experimentation was a cornerstone of Mr. Kleins philosophy,
said Cappiello. Horticulture is not just about making peoples
gardens nicer. It can have dramatic economic, educational and quality
of life impacts.
Yew Dell Gardens is not expected to open to the public until
2004, although private tours are available. To schedule a tour or learn
about volunteering opportunities call (502) 241-4788.
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