The South’s Most Spectacular Topiary Garden

Bring on spring with designer Bunny Williams at Ladew Topiary Gardens’ annual festival

Photo: Helen Norman

Spring at Ladew Gardens.

While bomb cyclones and nor’easters along the east coast have made for a long, cold winter, they’ve also ensured that the spring buds at Maryland’s Ladew Topiary Gardens will burst into bloom just in time for the garden’s tenth annual Garden Festival on Saturday, May 5, this year helmed by renowned tastemaker Bunny Williams and her husband, John Rosselli, as honorary co-chairs.

Harvey Ladew, an avid hunter, bought the land adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club in Monkton, just thirty miles north of Baltimore, in the late 1920s. He renovated the house, shot skeet from the terrace, and transformed twenty-two of the 250 acres into a whimsical personal garden, which he tended until his death in 1976.

Photo: Helen Norman

The iris garden at Ladew.

“Ladew loved surprises, which are around every corner in the house and gardens,” says Emily Emerick, Ladew’s executive director. For example, the house’s library contains a secret door that opens onto the grounds. Outside among the nearly two dozen garden rooms, giant hemlock and yew topiaries depict seahorses, unicorns, even Winston Churchill’s top hat. Perhaps the most-beloved of Ladew’s creations is the hunt-scene topiary that portrays two riders on horseback in pursuit of a fox with five hounds hot on its trail.

Photo: Helen Norman

Topiaries depict a hunt scene at Ladew Gardens.

Williams’s involvement is fitting—the annual Trade Secrets garden and plant sale she started eighteen years ago at her Connecticut home inspired the Ladew team. Ladew’s Garden Festival now features roughly fifty vendors of all kinds touting native plants from the Chesapeake watershed, sculpted topiaries, rare orchids, and garden accessories. “We have enough specialty growers that if you’re looking for that one special hellebore you can’t find anywhere, you’re probably going to find it here,” Emerick says.

Williams, who first visited Ladew Gardens some thirty years ago, was happy to lend her advice for the creation of the event, as well as act as a co-chair for its tenth anniversary. “I love Ladew,” Williams says. “I love that Harvey Ladew made it all himself. It’s a fantastic design and he had such a sense of humor creating it. It’s a garden with a lot of different elements and it’s inspired me for my own gardens.”

Photo: Helen Norman

Swan hedges.

In that regard, Ladew is in good company. “I can’t name all the gardens that inspire me: Hidcote, Rousham—all of the great English gardens really,” Williams says. “Every great garden you see you find something you can use in your own. Anyone interested in gardens should travel and be out in them.”

Luckily, to experience Ladew, you won’t have to wait long or travel far. The Garden Festival will be held in Monkton, Maryland, on Saturday, May 5, rain or shine. “Rain, as you know,” Emerick says, “does not keep plant people away.”

Photo: Courtesy of Ladew Gardens

Ladew’s Garden Festival in 2017.