You know you’ve picked a good place to visit when you’re children go from telling you they wanted to stay at home to squealing in delight and running to meet the dogs! Well, almost dogs–topiary canines! Welcome to Ladew Gardens, one of America’s foremost topiary gardens and a great all around garden to see. Topiary is the art of training and trimming shrubs (and other plants) into ornamental shapes. The dogs that caught Laura and Elise’s attention were actually part of a hunting scene. Two horsemen, including one jumping a fence, and their pack of hounds are frozen in a hunt scene. Rest assured the fox is far ahead of the pack and the hounds don’t look set to catch him! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to turn their whining into smiles.
Located north of Baltimore in Monkton, Maryland, Ladew Gardens is the enduring legacy of Harvey S Ladew (1887-1976). Ladew grew up between two continents. Born in the USA, Ladew visited Europe extensively as a child and then as an adult. He grew up speaking both French and English. It was during his trips to England that Ladew discovered his passion for topiary gardens. In addition to the hunt scene at the entrance, his garden contains swimming swans, a Chinese junk ship and various whimsical creations. It even has a castle–as you guess given her current princess obsession Laura noticed the castle before anyone else! When I learned that Ladew was a self-taught gardener, I was even more impressed. I hope some of his talent was rubbing off on me this morning although I doubt it. I think I’ll stick to visiting gardens for now.
The garden isn’t just topiary figures. Ladew Gardens is actually a series of 27-themed interlocking gardens. A visitor’s map, offered with your admission, describes the different gardens. A second map entitled the Nature Walk lets you take in the woods and fields next to the formal gardens. Depending on your interests, you can pay for just the gardens and nature walk ($10 adults, $2 children 2-12) or add on a guided house tour for an additional $3. Excellent bathroom facilities are available next to the gift shop at the entrance (the same place you go to pay your admissions fee). The house is lovely from the outside–it was built in phases with the earliest section dating from the 18th century. The venue host marriages and it’s easy to see how a couple could choose to celebrate their big day in such a lovely setting.
We chose to stick with the garden. While the map provides you with basic information on the gardens and plants are well-labeled throughout the property, we actually chose just to walk through and simply let our eyes wander where they wanted. Some of the gardens are called ‘garden rooms’ ie gardens devoted to a specific color or plant. For example, Ladew created a rose garden and an iris garden as well as pink, yellow and white gardens. Water features figure throughout the garden. Fountains abound in all shapes and sizes and two gardens even have their own mini-cascades. I think Laura and Elise were having a contest trying to see who can find the next fountain the fastest. They also enjoyed the topiary junk and the fish and carp swimming around it.
Parts of the garden are nicely shaded, others are completely exposed to the sun–while this allows for a greater variety of plants, it does mean that you need to come prepared. A water bottle and sunscreen are essential. The garden has benches, tables and chairs scattered throughout. We were actually able to sit down and enjoy several of the shaded gardens while the girls played by the fountain in front of us. Picnicking is authorized and an on-site cafe offers light fare. We spent the morning (about 2 hours) at the gardens and went home for lunch. If you’re planning to visit the house, add on another hour. Ladew also hosts concert nights, lectures and children’s activities as well as a yearly plant sale. Stone steps in the garden read, “If you want to be happy for a week, get a wife; if you want to be happy for month, kill a pig; if you want to be happy for your entire life, plant a garden.” While I might not agree with the first bit (I think I’m worth more than a week’s happiness), I certainly agree with the last part–Ladew’s garden is a place designed for people to feel good.