Louisville prides itself on its green space, and why shouldn’t we? With parks like Cherokee, Iroquois and Jefferson Memorial right here in the city limits we have a lot to brag about. But Kasey Maier, director of program development for Botanica, thinks we can do better. Botanica hopes to turn 22 acres of a former Ohio Street City Dump along River Road into a world-class botanical garden. But they want to do more than just build another tourist attraction, they want to teach Louisville and the region about sustainability and healthy living.
LEO: What does Botanica hope to do by building a botanical garden in Louisville?
Kasey Maier: Our botanical garden is not only about ornamental plants but also medicinal plants and a sensory experience. A big part of it is about health and education, teaching people about plants, gardening, healthy living and sustainability. There will be an educational building built with sustainable materials, an orchard and an edible garden outside of a restaurant. There will be a conservatory; currently there are no conservatories in the state. There will be a Japanese garden, because not everyone in Louisville can go to Japan to see the gardens — so all kinds of educational opportunities, both in the formal sense in terms of sitting in a classroom for students as well as adults, but also in the experiential sense. If you or I walked through the garden today, we would learn just by seeing and smelling and touching. It’s a cultural entity, so that affects tourism and economic development as well as quality of life for Louisville. And a botanical garden is something that all of our peer cities have, and we don’t.
LEO: So when you say healthy living, you mean more than strictly eating healthy?
KM: Health in every aspect. There will be two miles of walking paths, gardens to learn about growing your own food, meditative gardens for relaxation and a medicinal garden to learn about growing plants and weeds that have medicinal value.
LEO: How would you rate Louisville in terms of sustainability? Do we need to improve?
KM: I don’t know where we would rate. All I know is what I see in my neighborhood, which is not what it should be. We absolutely need to improve. We need to do a better job of teaching our kids how to live sustainably. We need to teach them about the earth, the water, the soil and the air. All these things are a part of the botanical gardens. Just being there you will notice that the air quality is better because of all the trees and plants. And kids need this kind of experience in order to learn it. In order to learn it, they have to experience it. They have to get their hands dirty, and it needs to become part of their life, whether you’re in Louisville, Kentucky or Omaha, Nebraska they will all need this. So no, it’s not happening enough yet, and we will provide that learning opportunity for students as well as adults to learn about gardening, sustainability and healthy living.
LEO: Is it possible to live sustainably in a modern city? Especially within a consumerist culture?
KM: There is nothing wrong with consumers. We all need to be consumers, we just need to be a lot smarter about it. And we can’t do that without the proper experiences. Education is one thing, and people can write books about it all day long, but until kids hear this over and over again and experience how they handle their trash and where they get their food, nothing is going to change. So again the books and education are great, but they have to experience it. It has to become a part of their practice and this is an opportunity to provide an educational resource for our community and all of us. I mean me too; I’m much older and I still have a lot to learn, and I wish I had learned a lot younger. So sure, I think that they can work together but it’s all about education and practice.
LEO: Metro Louisville has 120 parks, covering about 13,000 acres, which is a considerable percentage of our total acreage. Why is it so important for Louisvillians to have so much green space?
KM: Well, for one thing we have such a beautiful state. So it makes sense to highlight our natural features here. And I think that the people of Kentucky put their time and personal resources into our natural resources, because we have an amazingly beautiful state. We just have amazing people living here who have dedicated their lives, I mean their entire lives, to our green spaces. And the botanical gardens will be another jewel in our green space crown. And because it’s something new, people will come to see it, which should shed some light on all of the other wonderful parks and green spaces we have in the area. So it is important for tourism and economic development.