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“When I first bought the farm, I decided to do all the landscaping and planning of the gardens myself, although I knew I would make a lot of mistakes. I made the mistakes, but they taught me the little I know about gardening”, Ladew once wrote. The “little” Harvey Ladew said he knew about gardening, now covers 22 acres of formal gardens and reflects his style, elegance and sense of humor.
With the house mostly completed by 1937, Ladew had turned his attention to the grounds. Thanks to his extensive travels in England and Italy, he knew what sort of garden he wanted. It was to have two cross axes to allow for long vistas with “garden rooms” off each axis. The axes meet at his oval swimming pool, placed in the center of the Great Bowl. Garden rooms — devoted to a single color, a single plant or a single theme — had been the rage in England when Ladew started his numerous foxhunting visits. He was among the first Americans to recreate them on this side of the Atlantic.
In addition to garden rooms including the Rose Garden, Pink Garden and Yellow Garden, to name a few, there are over 100 topiaries on the property. Ladew’s introduction to topiary came early one morning while riding to a hunt in England. As he rode alongside a tall yew hedge bordering a large estate, he was astonished to see sculpted out of the top of the hedge several hounds chasing a fox! He wrote that he knew he would never be happy if he “could not reproduce this marvelous piece of living sculpture in his garden…” And in true Ladew fashion, not only did he re-create the fox and hounds, he also added two riders and their horses.
The Garden Club of America awarded Mr. Ladew the prestigious Distinguished Achievement Award for “creating and maintaining the most outstanding topiary garden in the country without professional help.” Today guests can enjoy a self-guided tour through this living masterpiece. Writer Chris Weeks states “[Ladew] has a place for every mood and leaves the guest with an enduring impression of its maker’s serenity, sophistication and wit.”
Photo Credit: Aerial picture of Ladew Gardens (2020): Abby Evans
Photo Credit: Mr. Ladew: Ladew Archives
Photo Credits: Slider photos: Helen Norman, Sarah Oktavec and Staff