Ladew Gardens seeking $400,000 in state funds

March 19, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time in Ladew Topiary Gardens' 60-year existence, state government money is being sought to help repair and renovate the Harford County tourist attraction.

Trustees for the 250-acre Monkton landmark -- long recognized as one of the world's finest topiary gardens -- are seeking $400,000 in state aid in a bill before the General Assembly. That money would be matched by private contributions.

"I think Ladew deserves public support," said Ned Daniels, a member of Ladew's board of trustees and a retired Rouse Co. executive. "We hope to use the state money to go farther with our public campaign."

Ladew, a private, nonprofit corporation, has raised more than $1 million in private donations for its construction projects. It also is battling a tiny insect that is damaging ornamental hemlock hedges.

The state money, if approved, would help complete $2 million in repairs and improvements in and around the sculpted gardens, visited by 35,000 people each year. Ladew, which has been open to the public since the late 1970s, is one of Harford County's top tourist attractions. The gardens were created by the late Harvey S. Ladew.

Plans call for Ladew to expand its educational programs for inner-city schoolchildren, the handicapped and others.

Other proposed projects are:

* Providing better irrigation equipment.

* Providing more parking and picnic facilities.

* Replacing unsafe footbridges in the gardens.

* Removing asbestos from the garden's main house and gardeners' cottage.

* Renovating the visitors' center.

"This is an excellent project," said Sen. William H. Amoss, a Harford Democrat who is chief sponsor of the bill. "With this [state] help, it will put them in good shape in the future. It's really to keep a good thing going."

Ladew "is a jewel not only of Harford County but of the entire

state of Maryland," said Del. Donald C. Fry, a Democrat who chairs the county legislative delegation. The bill is the only one this year in which the Harford delegation is seeking state money.

The Ladew property, at Harford's western border near Jarrettsville, consists of 15 formal gardens covering 22 acres. Themed gardens, called "rooms," are bordered by manicured hemlock hedges as tall as 30 feet.

The topiary garden is made up of shrubs and trees clipped and trained to ornamental shapes, such as swans, sea horses and a top hat.

Some of the hedges are succumbing to a tiny pest called the hemlock woolly aldegid, as well as old age and the stress of constant shearing. Some work in the $2 million improvement campaign involves stemming the damage caused by the pest, using a protective oil and nutrients. Ladew also has begun replacing some of the damaged hedges with yews, which are not harmed by the aldegid.

Mr. Ladew was able to build his lavish gardens because he inherited a fortune from his father, who made his money in the leather and coal businesses.

Mr. Ladew's passion for gardening lives on in the dedicated corps of more than 100 volunteers who help Ladew's 11 paid staff members.

"To me, it's the most beautiful garden on the East Coast," said Elizabeth Constable, a volunteer who has helped maintain Ladew's splendor for 23 years. "Being in the garden, even if it's on your knees, is really a joy."

"It's a pleasure garden," said Lena Caron, Ladew's executive director.

Mrs. Caron and others at Ladew encourage children and families to visit the facility.

Aside from the gardens, woods and fields cover the rest of Ladew's 250 acres. A house, built in 1765 and expanded since, also is recognized for its collection of antiques and artwork and its library.

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