Ridgefield’s Garden of Ideas to close

Falling short of its fundraising efforts, the Garden of Ideas on North Salem Road in Ridgefield will close this year.

“Sad facts: our capital campaign was a failure — we needed 1,600 people to pledge $600 and only received 130 pledges,” Joe Keller wrote on the Ridgefield, CT Facebook page on Tuesday, Sept. 10. “All money sent in to honor the first year of pledges will be returned. Thank you!!!”

Keller is the 13-acre property’s master gardener. He was attempting to turn the free public garden into a sustainable self-supporting venture in the town’s Lake Mamanasco neighborhood.

In addition to not getting enough pledges, Keller wrote that the Garden of Ideas is looking at tens of thousands of dollars in ash tree removal.

“I’m very concerned about safety as the dead trees begin to break and fall,” he wrote.

Keller also said that the costs to maintain the gardens, sculptures and walking paths “escalate every year.”

“Property taxes are onerous already and will only get worse,” he said. “As the Garden expands and improves, maintenance costs keep rising. Charging admissions was a great idea — wish I had thought of it 10 years ago.”


The Garden of Ideas started on the small residential property where Keller grew up, learning gardening — and the love of it — from his mother, Terry Keller. She was the “Gardening Guides” columnist in The Press years ago — a role he took on for some time himself. She headed the Ballard Greenhouse in Ridgefield, went on to lead the Green Guerrillas gardening program in Manhattan, and later started the Bronx Green-Up program at the New York Botanical Garden.

“She had a landscaping business that, as high schoolers, my younger brother and I worked for — some friends of mine worked for her, too. So, I grew up around it, I enjoyed it,” Keller told The Press in September 2018.

After college he started his own landscaping business, and today, Keller and his wife, Ilsa Svendsen, earn their living landscaping — their business, Svendsen & Keller, has clients around Fairfield County and nearby New York state.

Over the decades, the Garden of Ideas has grown to include four properties along North Salem Road — Joe, Ilsa and their son live in one house, his mom Terry lives in another, and two are rentals.

The simple version of Keller’s plan was to have the Friends of the Garden of Ideas — an eight-year-old 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with a board that Keller heads — raise $1 million through contributions and use the money the two buy the rental properties from the family. The Garden of Ideas — as opposed to the Kellers — would have owned the two properties, and receive the $40,000 or $50,000 a year in rental income.

He wrote to the Ridgefield community on Tuesday that his family members were reaching points in their lives “when decisions requiring money will have to be made.”

“Our capital is locked up in the properties — a successful capital campaign would have unlocked it,” he said. “I will be writing more about this on our Facebook page soon. Thanks again!