Located in Monkton, Maryland, the Ladew Topiary Gardens are a nonprofit topiary garden facility located on the former estate of Harvey S. Ladew, a prominent American socialite of the 1930s. Born in 1887 in New York City, Harvey S. Ladew grew up in a cultured lifestyle among Manhattan’s elite, learning French at a young age and taking drawing lessons from curators of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Following service in World War I as an Army liaison officer, Ladew began embarking on annual winter fox hunting expeditions in England starting in 1919, allowing him to enter into elite aristocratic social circles. As a prominent socialite, Ladew was close friends with early 20th century artistic and political luminaries such as Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, Clark Gable, T.E. Lawrence, and Charlie Chaplin.
In November 1929, Ladew moved to Monktown, Maryland and purchased a 200-acre property named Pleasant Valley Farm, located next to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club. Ladew renovated the property extensively throughout the 1930s, adding several new wings to the farmhouse and landscaping 22 acres of garden space out of land previously used for crop and livestock farming. Ladew’s gardens displayed his particular affinity for topiary carvings, and as such, the Pleasant Valley Farm property was described as the “most outstanding topiary garden in America” by the Garden Club of America. In the final decade of his life, Ladew established the Ladew Topiary Gardens, Inc. nonprofit organization for preservation of the property’s topiary gardens for future generations. In 1971, five years before Ladew’s death, the Ladew Topiary Gardens facility opened to the public.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, Ladew Topiary Gardens is operated as a nonprofit garden and living history museum facility, overseen by a board of trustees. The 22-acre facility is open to the public for tours and exploration April through October, with limited operation for special events during the winter months. As a public garden facility, the Ladew Topiary Gardens have been named one of the top five gardens in North America and have been praised by publications and organizations such as the Garden Club of America and the New York Times.
Visitors may tour the property’s Manor House, completely renovated by Ladew from an existing frame farmhouse built on the property in the late 18th century. Ladew, along with architect James W. O’Connor and interior decorators Jean Levy, Billy Baldwin, and Ruby Ross Wood, transformed the house into a two-story luxury country estate. Docent-led tours explore a number of rooms within the estate, including the Oval Library, containing more than 2,500 volumes and widely renowned as one of the most beautiful rooms in America. Other rooms within the home include an Elizabethan Room, inspired by Ladew’s love of 16th-century English architecture and interior design, a formal Dining Room with bay windows overlooking the gardens, and a Drawing Room with a Steinway grand piano frequently played by Cole Porter. An outdoor Studio also features an exhibit chronicling Ladew’s life and achievements.
The property’s 22 acres of gardens are arranged into a series of distinct garden “rooms,” constructed around more than 100 topiary sculptures taking a variety of human, animal, and artistic forms. Among the most famous of the gardens is the Hunt Scene, depicting hunters, horses, hounds, in pursuit of foxes. A variety of topiary sculptures are on display at the Sculpture Garden, ranging from natural scenes such as lyre birds, seahorses, and butterflies to cultural icons such as Winston Churchill’s signature top hat. A number of gardens evoke classical and European themes, such as the Tivoli Tea House and Garden or the Garden of Eden, which features a playful statue of Biblical figures Adam and Eve. Other gardens are themed around plantings, including a Rose Garden, Iris Garden, and White Garden, which features more than 35 different types of plants blooming with white blossoms.
A Nature Walk, opened in 1999, offers educational stations providing a glimpse into the area’s diverse wildlife along a 1.5-mile loop. A Butterfly House showcases monarchs and other species in their natural habitat during the summer months. A Visitor Center contains a gift shop offering books, jewelry, and home and garden gifts, and a Courtyard Cafe, located at the property’s former stables, offers homemade American fare.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to field trip opportunities for elementary, secondary, and scouting groups, Ladew Topiary Gardens offers a wide variety of educational programming for students of all ages, including a Little Explorers Nature Preschool program, a Family Nature Explorers group, and a summer nature camp for children ages 2 to 15. For adult visitors, a fall lecture series welcomes distinguished horticultural speakers, and an In the Garden series provides opportunities to learn techniques from professional gardeners. More than 80 public special events are held at the facility throughout the year, including the My Lady’s Manor Steeplechase Races, a summer concert series, a Christmas open hours, and an annual Garden Festival.
3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD 21111, Phone: 410-557-9466