Once upon a time in Harford County, just north of Baltimore, wealthy landowner Harvey Ladew turned an old farmhouse into an elegant English Country-style home, filled it with stylish people who came for the fox hunting season. He turned the property into a fantasyland of gardens, spending hours snipping the yews and boxwoods into swans, caterpillars, even Winston Churchill's top hat.
Ladew made sure his gardens would survive him, by setting up a trust to maintain the elegant, yet whimsical place.
Not much known outside the state, Marylanders know that this is an ideal daytrip, or a place to bring a picnic and enjoy a Sunday evening concert.
Ladew Topiary Gardens is about 45 minutes north of downtown Baltimore. To get there, head up I-83 to the Beltway, heading north to Towson. Get on Route 146 North and drive about 10 miles. The house and gardens are on the right.
Even the drive is spectacular. After crossing the Loch Raven Reservoir, you head into Hunt Country, where horse farms as far as the eye can see are set on rolling hills.
Ladew Topiary Gardens spreads out over 22 acres of this spectacular landscape. Ladew designed 15 gardens, from the tiny Keyhole Garden filled with red-blooming flowers to the expansive Great Bowl whose centerpiece is the pool (where Mr. Ladew used to swim.) There are gardens dedicated to irises, herbs, roses, and of course, topiary--carefully sculpted shrubs.
At the edge of the property is a nature trail stretching through forest, marsh and meadow, overlooking Ladew's two polo fields at one point.
Visitors can also tour Ladew's former home, still filled with Ladew's original furnishings. Every room on view, except two guest rooms, is decorated with horses or foxes or hounds or some other aspect of fox hunting. Look, too, for photos of people whom Ladew knew, including T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who visited here. The oval library is included in the book 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America.
Ladew, who bought the house in 1929, lived there until his death in 1976. He was honored by the Garden Club of American for the wonderful topiary and his house and gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors can come for the gardens or to see both the house and the gardens. Also on the property are a small café in the stables where diners can choose a table in a horse's stall and a gift shop.
Admission to the gardens is $8 adults, $7 seniors, students and $2 children. For both house and gardens, it's $12 adults, $11, seniors, students and $4 children.
The gardens are open mid-April through Oct. 31 10-4pm, Monday through Friday, 10:30-5pm, with the last house tour beginning an hour before closing.
Special events are scheduled throughout the year, including Sunday concerts, which usually begin at 6pm, and several Christmas decorations workshops and Christmas at an English Country House weekend.
For a schedule of events, call tel. 410-577-9750 or visit www.ladewgardens.com.