The Waterfront Botanical Gardens was started by Botanica, an umbrella organization for the local gardening community that was started in 1993 to help enlighten, entertain, and educate the community about the botanical world. In 2001, Botanica learned that it was the beneficiary of a trust established by member Helen Harrigan, a local gardener with a desire to see a botanical garden and conservatory built in Louisville. Helen’s gift reshaped the focus of our organization, and we set about our work to create what will become Louisville’s Waterfront Botanical Gardens.
Planting seeds and growing minds for more sustainable cities.
To cultivate urban botanical gardens that educate, inspire, and enhance appreciation of the relationship between plant life and a healthy environment.
At Waterfront Botanical Gardens, our vision is to plant seeds and grow minds for more sustainable cities.
In light of the events taking place in our community, we find that true sustainability runs far deeper than the plants in our garden.
We stand with those calling for justice and change, and acknowledge the pain and anguish so many in our community rightly feel. As we re-open the Gardens to our community, we must sow the seeds of equality. Our community is like our garden: the more diversity it includes, the more beautiful it becomes. In the right balance, that symbiosis makes the entire garden, and community, healthier and stronger.
Waterfront Botanical Gardens stands strong as a place that welcomes all people. There is no place for discrimination or racism here. Help us plant those seeds and watch a new, stronger community grow. Together.
OUR PROGRESS SO FAR
- Feasibility study (2005)
Analysis of 9 comparable gardens that helped us project anticipated attendance and revenue streams, as well as the cost of operations and staff
- Site Selection (2009)
Evaluated potential locations and selected the 23-acre site at Frankfort Avenue and River Road
- Development of our Strategic Vision (2010)
- Title Search (Nov 2012)
Tracked deed transfers of 135 plots of land from 1830’s to current ownership of the property by Louisville Metro Government
- Founders’ Garden (May 2013)
As a way to promote the garden and inspire the community, we installed the Founders’ Garden at the Heigold Façade on Frankfort Avenue.
- Land Use Agreement (June 2013)
Signed an agreement with Metro Louisville to formally commit the property for the botanical garden; the agreement also provides a path for Botanica’s future purchase of the property.
- Environmental Assessment (October 2013)
Completed a comprehensive assessment of the site and gained agreement by the Superfund Branch of the Kentucky Division of Waste Management
- Design Team Selection (January 2014)
Perkins+Will selected to complete the Master Plan design for the future gardens
- Master Plan (November 2014)
Finalized the Master Plan for the future gardens.
- First Building Identified (June 2016)
Rendering of the Graeser Family Education Center and Gardens, the first building on the site
- Groundbreaking Ceremony (September 2017)
- Property Transfer from Metro Government (November 2017)
- $7.8 million Raised (December 2017)
- Design complete on Graeser Family Education Center (September 2018)
- Construction Begins on Graeser Family Education Center (December 2018)
- $10 million raised (December 2018)
- Grand opening of Graeser Family Education Center and Mary Lee Duthie Gardens on October 4, 2019
- $16 million raised (October 2019)
- Design work begins on three support buildings: classroom, greenhouse, and workshop (February 2020)
- Japanese Garden plans unveiled, designed by Shiro Nakane (March 2020)
- Design work complete on three support buildings, known as the Ellen T. Leslie Botanical Classrooms (July 2020)
- Beargrass Creek Pathway Opens (September 2020)
- Construction begins on the Ellen T. Leslie Botanical Classrooms (October 2020)
- $18 million raised (December 2020)
- Master Plan updated (March 2021)
The Waterfront Botanical Gardens site lies within the boundaries of one of Louisville’s oldest city areas, known as “The Point.” This area has seen dramatic changes over the years, beginning in the antebellum period, when Fulton Street was lined with summer homes of prosperous French families from New Orleans, who came north during the summer months to escape the heat. After disastrous flooding in the late 1800s and again in 1937, the area was turned into a city dump for building refuse from flood-damaged homes. After decades spent as the Ohio Street Dump, which was capped in 1973, the area is being redeveloped into an ecological haven.
In 2014, Botanica conducted a plant survey of the future garden site. Led by Patricia Haragan, botanist and author of numerous articles and field guides, the survey identified and documented the plants that grew on the site prior to the Gardens’ development, including native and invasive species. Over 100 unique species were documented at the site.