Summer 2004

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Shangri-La on the Farm

Even before airplanes began circling his southern Indiana farm two years ago, David Daugherty ’59S knew he had something special.

What pilots and other guests are coming to look at in increasing numbers is Daugherty’s 52-acre “garden paradise” known as Cathedral Gardens.

Rising unexpectedly from the creek bottom of his retirement farm just east of I-65 in Henryville, Daugherty’s collection of terraced gardens, ponds, fountains and colorfully domed pavilions is akin to the mythical Shangri-La.

Retired software entrepreneur David Daugherty ’59S checks some of the 15,000 plants ready for planting at his 52-acre Cathedral Gardens paradise in Henryville, Ind. Below left: One of the many terraced gardens sculpted from Daugherty’s farm property.

Daugherty says his initial idea when he bought the farm in 1993 was to create a small retirement garden. After five decades of hard work in engineering, business and government in Louisville , Daugherty felt he deserved a little peace.

But his work ethic decided otherwise.

“I worked hard all my life, but instead of retiring to a condo in Florida or flying a plane I elected to keep working six days a week on this,” Daugherty says.

So far, Daugherty has spent 10 years and $4 million moving tons of earth and stone to dam the creek and to “sculpt,” as he puts it, a terraced, amphitheater-like series of themed gardens spanning the valley.

Bubbling with ideas, Daugherty says that the garden is a canvas for his artistic and engineering ambitions.

Each of Cathedral Gardens ’ 13 gardens, or “rooms,” has a name, theme and special design—all bearing the Renaissance-man stamp of their creator.

For instance, stone tablets throughout the gardens are etched with Daugherty’s own poetry. The two gift shops sell his original oil paintings of flowers. All of the domes, wooden structural materials and concrete pillars were crafted or built on site by workers Daugherty trained. All structures consist of stone and wood harvested entirely from the farm.

“We want to be completely self-sufficient,” Daugherty says.

More than 15,000 plants grown in on-site greenhouses are planted next to thousands of annuals in the gardens. Myriad sites one encounters along the gardens’ paths and paved roads include a dozen large fountain sculptures pumping thousands of gallons of water a minute, bird houses, herb gardens, wind chimes, small statuary, 100 wild turkeys, lizards, bamboo, ducks and hand-laid stone walls.

Garden rooms with names such as Saracen’s Retreat, Four Seasons, Idyll of Dreams and Greek Garden reflect the imagination of a man who never took a vacation his entire career.

“When I was running my businesses,I sent people all over the world, but I never left Louisville. I was the traffic cop stuck in the middle of the road. The gardens let me create places I’d like to go to.”

The capper of Daugherty’s massive project will be the Venetian Garden , slated to open this summer.

It will include a circular plaza 70 feet in diameter for dance and orchestral performances and seating for up to 200. The garden will be surrounded by a reservoir simulating a Venice canal, made possible by a 150-foot-long dam. Other features will be a pavilion for visiting artists to display their works, a statue of St. Michael slaying a dragon, and the busts of great artists through history, including Bach, Emerson and Wagner.

Visitors who board the tour bus or golf carts for twice-daily tours often are overwhelmed by the gardens, Daugherty says.

“One woman, who was terminally ill, told me that if heaven looked like this then the Lord could take her right now,” he says.

Daugherty often speaks of God and spirituality when talking about Cathedral Gardens.

“I believe the Lord speaks to us through nature in the sight of flowers and in the sound of water,” he adds.

Daugherty says he wants to share his good fortune by opening the gardens to artists, dancers and other creative people.

The Louisville-based Terpsichore Dance Co., for instance, uses the gardens as a place for its young ballerinas to perform. Painters will be allowed prime parking and other amenities near the Venetian Garden , Daugherty adds.

A Career of Ups and Downs

Daugherty grew up in Jeffersontown, Ky., where his father managed a large construction firm. He learned farming while working in his father’s peach orchard. After graduating from Louisville’s Atherton High School in 1954, he attended Speed School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Speed in 1959. Those were challenging times, he says.

“Boy, they really hammered you in Speed School,” Daugherty recalls. “Most students didn’t make it. I still get up at 4:30 every morning; that was part of the work ethic I got while at Speed. I’d often be up three days and nights without sleep to study and work. I worked construction jobs to pay my way through school. It was tough, but I developed a good work ethic from it.”

After graduation, Daugherty designed dams in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Later he worked in Jefferson County government to enforce better drainage regulations as giant suburbs grew. In the 1980s and 1990s he started several businesses. One of them, EAS Technologies, developed a $300,000 time and labor management software package used by the Army to automate its operations worldwide as well as by Fortune 500 companies including Kellogg’s and Mercedes.

Daugherty’s fortune was secured when he and his shareholders sold EAS to payroll-management giant Ceridian Corp., Minneapolis, in 1996.

“I took my money and ran and decided to build these gardens and get away from the world.”

Daugherty and his wife of 43 years, Audrey, now divide their time between a condo in Louisville and the log home he built overlooking Cathedral Gardens.

One of his latest projects is to create a DVD that guests that can buy and have personalized by blending their images with sites in the gardens.

“We can create films that capture the moment and celebrate their lives: a newborn child, a wedding bride and groom, the elderly—anybody. It would show their presence, how they walk and talk and how they look at flowers.”

Lives, like his gardens, are works in progress, Daugherty says.

“When will I finish these gardens?

I don’t think I’ll stop working on them until the day I die.”

For more information, go to the Cathedral Gardens Web site at:

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