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Ladew Topiary Gardens Celebrates 50 Years as a Public Garden

The text that follows is from a press release by Ladew Topiary Gardens. I have visited this garden several times over the last few decades and it is indeed remarkable, well worth traveling a considerable distance to see.

Larry Hodgson

What was once an unremarkable 250-acre (109-ha) Maryland farm, purchased in 1929 by Harvey Smith Ladew, has become a renowned destination for visitors from all over the world. Called the “most outstanding topiary garden in America” by the Garden Club of America, Ladew Topiary Gardens this year celebrates 50 years as a public garden.

Topiary of a man on horseback.
Topiary called the Rider, part of The Hunt Scene, the Garden’s most celebrated topiary. Photo: Erik Kvalsvik

The breathtaking gardens that Ladew designed and created were inspired by the world-class landscapes he had seen during his many European travels. They include water features, statuary, and most notably, hundreds of topiaries. Introduced in England to this style of living sculpture, Harvey Ladew made topiary the keynote of his grounds.

Harvey Ladew et deux amis, photo noir et blanc.
Harvey Ladew on the terrace with friends.

His gardens became a popular destination for garden lovers; his friends would set up card tables in the front yard and collect 75 cents from curious visitors wishing to tour the whimsical property. In 1971, after failing to find an organization to take over his house and gardens, he created the Ladew Topiary Gardens, Inc. The organization was charged with the preservation and care of his 22 acres (9 ha) of beautiful gardens and historic house that had been his life’s work.

Over the past 50 years, Ladew Topiary Gardens has become a nationally recognized destination for nearly 50,000 guests each year. Visitors come to explore the award-winning gardens, tour the historic Manor House, discover seasonal and year-round surprises on the Nature Walk, and learn about the mysteries of metamorphosis in a native Butterfly House.

This year marks the successful organization that Ladew Gardens has become over a half-century, rooted in the vision of its founder, the commitment and work of its trustees and volunteers, and the engagement and support of its community.

Over the past 50 years…

Iris Garden
The Iris Garden. Photo: Helen Norman
  • Gardens: More than half of the original gardens have been restored with the help of archival information, the benefits of new technology, and the generous support of the community. The Woodland Garden will be restored in 2021; its pathways will be returned to the original whimsical checkerboard pattern.
  • Nature Walk: The Nature Walk, which opened in 1999 and was enhanced in 2019, offers visitors a natural landscape that provides an intentional contrast to the cultivated formal gardens. With pathways through a natural landscape, the walk serves as a living teaching aid for Ladew’s educational programming. Guests can experience the various wildlife habitats, which are particular to the Piedmont Plateau. In addition to educational signs along the one-mile trail, visitors enjoy a birdwatching blind, floating wetlands on the quarry pond, and a short boardwalk which threads through the wetland forest and freshwater marsh.
  • Butterfly House: Opened in 2014 and the first of its kind in the region, the Butterfly House showcases native plants and the native butterflies and caterpillars that depend on them for food and shelter. The Butterfly House provides an up-close, educational experience of the natural history and life cycle of over 20 species of local butterflies and caterpillars. The recent addition of interpretive signage enhances the visitor’s experience.
The Cottage Garden and the Manor House.
The Cottage Garden and the Manor House. Photo: Helen Norman
  • Manor House: The house interiors have undergone significant historic restorations enabling visitors to experience the charm and genius of Harvey Ladew’s interior design. Drawing room, bedroom suite restorations were made possible by archives; they reflect the incredible style and unique taste of Ladew and his talented friends, including Billy Baldwin.
  • Art in the Gardens: Amateur painter and sculptor Harvey Ladew had a keen appreciation of art in many forms—painting, traditional sculpture, garden design, and, of course, the art of topiary. Over the years, Ladew Gardens has welcomed local, national and international artists to the Gardens to exhibit and sell their work. In 2021 Ladew features an exhibition of the natural realism sculptures by internationally renowned J. Clayton Bright and meticulous artistic botanical compositions by Anne Blackwell Thompson.
  • Special Events and Educational Programs: Ladew hosts over 130 programs and events each year ranging from the Garden Festival in May, to concerts in the Great Bowl throughout the summer, a lecture series in the spring and fall, the annual Garden Glow fall festival, and children’s educational programs year around. The educational programs serve thousands each year and address topics ranging from horticulture to environmental science, interior design and beyond. The COVID-19 pandemic will impact plans for some of these programs in 2021.
  • Community Partnerships: Valuable community partnerships with organizations such as Pathfinders for Autism, Edgewood Boys and Girls Club, Title I schools and with other public and private schools enhance Ladew’s reach and expand the offerings.
  • Interpretive Resources: Interpretive opportunities are being enhanced throughout the property to offer all visitors a wealth of valuable information—from plant identification to historical facts to best practices.
The Yellow Garden with daffodils.
The Yellow Garden with daffodils.

Ladew Topiary Gardens has received the prestigious “Top Five North American Gardens Worth Traveling For” award from the Canadian Garden Tourism Council and was deemed “the Most Outstanding Topiary Garden in America” by the Garden Club of America. Ladew was featured as one of “10 Incredible Topiary Gardens around the World” by Architectural Digest.

Ladew is located on Jarrettsville Pike (MD 146), 14 miles north of the Baltimore Beltway (I-695), exit 27B (Dulaney Valley Road North) in Maryland. Ladew Topiary Gardens is a nonprofit, 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is “to maintain and promote the Gardens, House and facilities in keeping with the creative spirit of Harvey S. Ladew for the public benefit and for educational, scientific and cultural pursuits.”

Both the House and Gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can learn more about Ladew Topiary Gardens at their website: Ladew Topiary Gardens.

Photos supplied by Ladew Topiary Gardens.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “Ladew Topiary Gardens Celebrates 50 Years as a Public Garden

  1. Incredible. Such beauty is breathtaking.

  2. Pingback: The Plantain Hosta: More Like a Lily Than a Hosta! – Laidback Gardener

  3. Thanks Larry for this post. Did not know about this exceptional garden and thought I knew all the best gardens. My favourite so far in my travels is Chanticleer.
    Cheers, Joyce, Hamilton, Ontario

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