Chasing the Fox and Hounds at Ladew Topiary Gardens

Harvey Ladew loved hunting, and while visiting England in the 1920s, he became fascinated with the art of topiary. The hunt scene combines his love of the foxhunt as well as his gardening hobby.

As traveler, artist, fox hunter and creator of an amazing garden, Harvey Ladew filled the nearly 90 years of his life richly, creatively, and above all, with great wit. In 1929, at the age of 43, foxhunting drew him to this property in rural Maryland, where he let his wit loose in his extraordinary gardens.

Harvey Ladew purchased the 200+ acre Pleasant Valley Farm from the Scarff family in November 1929, which conveniently bordered The Elkridge- Harford Hunt Club. The old white farmhouse was in primitive condition- it had neither heat, electricity nor plumbing. Ladew said of his “new” house – “It was in shambles and the only garden consisted of a couple of old lilac bushes.”

If it’s horse or hunt related, Ladew hung it on his walls. This model coach hangs above a door in his front hall.

During the 1930s Ladew added wings to the house and renovated outbuildings before beginning work on the gardens. Then, with the help of local farmers, Ladew carved 22 acres of gardens out of fields previously used for crops and livestock and set to work transforming Pleasant Valley Farm into “the most outstanding topiary garden.”

His house is lovely. Although it was described as a “bachelor pad” by the visitor’s center, there’s elegance and refinement throughout the lovely rooms. Ladew loved antiques. He inherited many, but also enjoyed hunting for antiques as wells as foxes. The house is decorated around the central theme of the foxhunt.

Foxes, hounds, and horses are everywhere throughout the house.

These lovely windows were in Ladew’s study.

In addition to the house and gardens, there’s a nature walk and a butterfly house, featuring plants and butterflies native to Maryland. The naturalists on staff will point out to you both butterflies and caterpillars and share their extensive expertise about the lifecycle of butterflies. Interestingly, on the day I visited, monarchs were gathering, waiting for their annual migration to begin. This butterfly room answers the question — is this a good place to take children? Yes, definitely. Ladew Gardens is a great place to introduce a child to the joy of exploring a lovely garden (although I’d forget about taking the youngster on the house tour).

The gardens are arranged around “garden rooms,” each focusing on a color or theme. Probably my favorite was at the bottom of the garden, and featured a lovely pond with koi, and a “junk” in the center.

Other garden rooms were centered around a croquet court, a pink garden, a terrace garden, …

… a water lily pond, and …

…. a sculpture garden, which, like most of the other garden rooms, featured a variety of topiaries.

As with most gardens, there’s an evolving display, each season offering new blooms and aspects. This was my first visit to this lovely gardens — but I’m definitely going back, in a different month, so I can enjoy the gardens again, only differently!

Getting there: 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, MD 21111

Dogs: Service animals only.

Hours: Gardens, house and nature walk are open daily from April 1 through October 31;
daily hours are 10:00 am – 5:00 pm


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