Changes taking shape at Ladew

July 28, 1994

Ladew Topiary Gardens, often lauded as one of the finest examples of topiary in the United States, is celebrating its 23rd year as an extraordinary public attraction in Harford County.

Much of the 22 acres of quiet gardens and sculpted hedges appears unchanged from the days since country gentleman Harvey Ladew single-handedly crafted the yews and hemlocks into a potpourri of remarkable shapes and figures in the 1930s. His former manor house now includes a gift shop, but is still chockablock with the mementos and eclectic collections of hunting art and English countryside furnishings.

Quiet changes and a lot of restoration have taken place at Ladew over the years, however. Pieces of damaged shrubbery in the sculptures have been replaced, the buildings and grounds renovated, parking spaces added, a delightful cafe opened on the patio, the Sunday summer concerts in the Great Bowl have become a popular fixture.

But the biggest change to this impressive horticultural monument is the threat from a tiny insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, that is determinedly eating its way through the vulnerable hemlock that make up most of the topiary sculptures.

The trust that has run the terraced gardens since Mr. Ladew donated them in 1970 is challenged to combat the insistent insect with pesticides and plant nutrients, while replacing the soft-needled hemlock with resistant yew.

While the grounds in Monkton remain open to the public, the restorative work must proceed apace to preserve the gardens. The 60-year-old hemlocks are already stressed by decades of pruning, and thus more susceptible to attack by the woolly adelgid.

The trust has launched a $2 million fund-raising campaign to fund this extensive project to replant the ornamental shrubbery and to renovate the buildings and grounds. The success of the pest management program will be closely followed by horticulturists in the East, where hemlock forests have also been ravaged by the adelgid.

Ladew has managed its endowment well; revenues from some 30,000 visitors a year help to maintain the gardens, unpaid volunteers do much of the work to keep the estate flourishing. But this is inadequate for the kind of long-range garden renovation and maintenance program this is now needed. Support for the capital campaign is essential if future generations are to continue to enjoy the delights of this unique living treasure.

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