Mary Rounsavall’s Thing


Photography by MelIssa Donald

When I returned after nine years to Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood, Ky., I was invited to tour the gardens and have lunch outside on the deck of the Pavilion and have my questions answered by Mary Rounsavall, president of the Yew Dell Gardens board of directors.

How did you get involved in Yew Dell Gardens?

My garden club had a meeting in 1999 at Klein’s Yew Dell Farm (and nursery, residence, and garden) very shortly after Theodore Klein died and when there were grave questions about its future. I was stunned by what I saw, even in its ruined state (Klein was 93 when he died in 1998). I could see the “bones” of the gardens, the beautiful stone walls, and the Cotswold-style buildings, including a half-scale castle. I knew restoring it was a project I’d like to be involved in if we could ever get it off the ground.

What made you think you could do this?

I say I have a “used car salesman gene.” I can be persuasive when I’m excited about something, and people
seem to respond to it. I’m an eternal optimist with worrywart tendencies  just ask my children. I’m a gardener and previously an artist, so Yew Dell was right up my alley.

Was the restoration a difficult task?

We underestimated the enormity of the project and the amount of money it would take to put Yew Dell back in shape. The property was completely overgrown, all 33 acres of it, and the buildings were in dire condition. I tell the story of setting out 12 buckets to catch leaks just in the little kitchen of the castle! And since the old farm was in rough shape, it was hard for donors to think our small community group could have the success we knew we could. My husband was supportive, saying, “You are great at taking baby steps.” The funny thing was that the people I thought would be donors were not. It was people who just came out of the woodwork.

What helped you continue despite the challenges?

In the fall of 2002, two things happened that brought us recognition and tremendous momentum. The most important was that Paul Cappiello, who had been working as director of horticulture at Bernheim, came on board part-time as executive director. His is the hand that guides Yew Dell, and we are very grateful for it. Also notable was that the Garden Conservancy, a national preservation organization recognizing Yew Dell’s potential and the horticultural legacy of Theodore Klein, named Yew Dell as one of its preservation projects. They were a stamp of approval.

What’s next?

Since the last 10 years have focused on rebuilding Yew Dell, the next step is building the Horticultural Center. The old head house and potting shed are going through restoration now, and a new greenhouse is being built. The renovated buildings are “the guts” of Yew Dell where seedlings will be planted and cuttings taken. They will then be moved into the new greenhouse for propagation and display. Also new and close to Paul Cappiello’s heart  he is an adjunct professor of horticulture at UK  is the apprenticeship program that just got started this year. Yew Dell took a graduating student from the horticultural school and gave him a place to live, a job with pay learning real-life lessons, and valuable contacts.

How were you brave?

It wasn’t just me. There was a tiny group of us, including Theodore’s daughter, photographer Marian Klein Koehler. We were passionate but foolhardy; we just knew there was a little jewel in Crestwood that we couldn’t let slip away from us. We owe thanks to a lot of people.

What advice do you have for others?

If you have a chance to make a difference in your community, to provide a resource that wasn’t there, or to save a precious place that would be lost forever, why wouldn’t you do it?

Article Courtesy of  Today’s Woman

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