Hedging for the Future at Ladew

August 19, 1994

Ladew Topiary Gardens is under siege from a tiny attacker that is smaller than a pinhead but as deadly as a giant dragon to the acres of artfully sculpted hemlock in this Monkton showplace.

The hemlock woolly adelgid, an invader from Japan that showed up four years ago in small white balls wrapped around needles and branches of the trees, sucks the sap from the hemlocks and injects a deadly spittle.

With the extreme age of the hemlocks and their stressed condition from repeated pruning to create the fantastic topiary, the trees may not long survive the pest's spreading assault. While Ladew's gardeners are spraying the ornamentals with protective oil and pumping them full of nutrients to prolong the fight, their ultimate fate is certain.

Seizing upon this natural disaster as an opportunity, the trust that manages the horticultural masterpiece has launched a $2 million campaign to replant the dying hemlock with yew and other resistant shrubbery, improve the grounds, and renovate the buildings and parking area.

Most of the topiary hedges are 60 years old, planted when country gentleman Harvey S. Ladew began to craft the acres of thematic gardens and imaginative topiary from the Harford County countryside in the 1930s.

Fortunately for the gardens, a number of the notable topiary sculpture are shaped from non-hemlock plants, such as the signature piece of Japanese yew at the entrance depicting horse and rider jumping a gate in pursuit of hounds and the ever elusive fox. Likewise unaffected by the voracious adelgid is the Chinese junk trimmed and trained from privet hedge.

While continuing to delight some 30,000 visitors a year with what has been called the finest example of topiary in the United States, the Ladew Gardens are now in need of a long-term scientifically based program of garden maintenance and replacement. The work and study will benefit other horticulturists who are battling the onslaught of the woolly adelgid.

The capital program for Ladew richly merits the community's support. It will allow the trust to preserve and maintain this historic living treasure for future generations, while remaining open to the public. This garden of earthly delights, a legacy of verdant serenity and leisure from another time, deserves no less.

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