Behind the blooms

passionate about: gardens

There's lots to do to prepare the Ladew Gardens for the public

April 12, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

With spring here, the change of season has Emily Emerick and her staff at Ladew Topiary Gardens hopping. Emerick, executive director of the historic house and gardens in Harford County, spent recent weeks prepping for the March 28 opening of the 2009 season.

At Ladew, she's doing something she has loved since she was 4 years old. The Towson native's earliest memories revolve around watching her mother in a denim wrapped skirt and a bandanna preparing garden beds and planting rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries.

Although Emerick, 48, majored in English at Washington College, she has never ventured too far from gardening. Today, she oversees Harvey S. Ladew's former home, a popular tourist attraction that includes a country house and 22 acres of gardens with whimsical topiary designs.

We asked her about her career and love of gardening.

When did you know that gardening was more than a hobby, something you wanted to devote your life to?

I bought a house and realized that everyone else's house had more thought going into it than [mine]. You see the ones that had an interest and passion in gardening. When it's a permanent place and something that you're going to be in for a while, it's a lovely thing to do some work around the house and see the reward. There really is an obsessive nature to this thing. Gardeners are obsessive people, but in a good way.

How did you arrive at Ladew?

I was an amateur gardener, and I was in development work and fundraising. I came on the board about 15 years ago and have been here since.

Describe the final preparations to get the grounds ready for the season's opening.

The roses, which we like to leave until the very last minute because we don't like for them to throw off new shoots when cold weather is still imminent, they were all pruned. The ponds were prepped and all filled.

The koi fish will come out of dormancy when the temperature reaches 55. We're keeping an eye on them but not starting to feed them quite yet. We've cleaned up the beds, raking out any of the material that's fallen in them over the winter. We haven't had to mow yet because it's been so chilly.

Is the staff energized by the opening?

It's been great, in part, because the winter has seemed so long this year. It has been so much chillier. But it's greening up here. We had a long, beige winter, and now it's a bright green, which is just great. Most of the people here love gardening. What we're about is a garden and historic home, and everybody is into those things. It's a very positive energy around here when we're getting ready to show Ladew's place.

Are the bulbs on schedule?

We had that warm spell a couple of weekends ago. I would say a lot of what we're seeing now in terms of the bulbs that are coming up are from that spell. The forsythia is just about to bloom. The hellebores in the Woodland Garden are blooming. They are a very early perennial. But unlike some of our really early, really warm springs, everything is holding off a little bit, which means that when it goes, it's going to be a fantastic show. Every day that it gets warmer, we get closer to blooming.

It's been dry so far, with rainfall levels lower than normal. Has that affected the grounds?

Not yet because it's been so cold this spring, so a lot of things aren't pushing yet. Now if it were really warm and very dry, and plants were really throwing out a lot of new growth and didn't have much moisture, that's when we're going to start seeing possible effects. But for the time being, it's a perfectly long, cool spring, which we rarely enjoy here.

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