Waterfront Botanical Gardens

Louisville, Kentucky
From Trash to Treasure

The decline started when a Louisville neighborhood fell to a 100-year flood. Next, the 23-acre footprint became a landfill and, ultimately, a blemish on this Southern jewel of a town.

Yet for more than 30 years, garden loving citizens saw beautiful opportunity on the land: sprawling native and exotic gardens that draw global tourists for its beauty, entertainment venues, and educational programs. And they were determined to see their vision through.

When the idea finally took root, we went to work. Design elements were tricky. Steep slopes, invasive plants, and landfill soil issues were significant. And about that soil—the presence of heavy metals required lots of research about which plants would naturally aid in the containment of soil contaminants across the site. Happily, ideal solutions were found to further root the vision of the town’s plant lovers.

From children to researchers, from educators to chefs, from gardeners to artists, the garden offers a story that will resonate with people of all different backgrounds and interests.
“We are building a world-class botanical garden, and design is very important to our success, which is why we selected Perkins&Will. The organic design of the first building in Phase 1 has inspired the community and specifically, donors.”

Kasey Maier, Waterfront Botanical Gardens, Inc.


It’s only natural for a garden to showcase the cycles of life. But this garden’s plan encompasses visitors’ entire lifespans as well. Both the client and team wanted to build a place that people would flock back to. No “one-and-done” here.

As children, there are holiday lights to marvel. Teenagers find perfect spots for prom selfies. Young adults propose and marry here. As homeowners, thirty-somethings attend gardening workshops while their children play in summer camp just an acre away. An aging retiree admires the art collection. And the cycle continues.

The garden strives to set precedents in sustainability via spaces like the proposed Education Pavilion that is being designed around the Living Building Challenge and the Water Filtration Garden that will clean gray water through a series of beautiful water gardens.

Project Team

Zan Stewart
Mark Walsh
Leo Alvarez
Bryan Schabel