I think strolling is good for the soul. As are gardens. At least they are good for my soul. There is something about the slow pace of moving through a garden and taking everything in that feels restorative and even a bit luxurious. It’s something akin to walking through museum galleries, only most gardens are outside which adds another dimension to the experience (bees, dragonflies, frogs, not to mention the weather). And—despite the fact that we might also be in a garden for educational or cultural reasons, gardens, in general, feel more relaxed.
We can take our shoes off and no one will mind.
Harvey Ladew (1886-1976) created a magical world of fifteen linked gardens, larger than life topiaries, and a sweeping lawn around his house, now known as Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Maryland. Originally from New York, he purchased the farmhouse called Pleasant Valley House and its property when he was middle-aged because he loved fox hunting, and living in Maryland became important to him. He spent the rest of his days turning his home and gardens into a truly enchanting place.
It is quite obvious as you walk through his world that it was indeed made by someone, not only with the means to do so, but also with a playful and interesting mind. In fact, he is described by those who knew him as lively, curious, and imaginative. A man of leisure, a lover of life, and a maker of scenes of beauty wherever he went, Harvey Ladew was also a self-taught gardener with a passion for many things, including the art of topiary. He designed and maintained his own whimsical landscape for many years, and loved nothing more than sharing it with others.
When you visit, you can tour his house and the gardens or just one or the other. Both are worth seeing (renowned architect, James O’Connor and interior designer, Billy Baldwin were close friends of Ladew and both had some input into Pleasant Valley House, yet both agreed that it was really all about Harvey and his passions).
On a recent June day with billowing clouds overhead and a nice breeze, we chose to stroll through the gardens and save the house for another day.
The rose garden is enclosed in a low brick wall with archways leading to the Garden of Eve, the Pink Garden, and the Great Bowl (which used to be where the swimming pool was—imagine!—and now there is a fountain and concerts are held there in the summertime).
Just a hint of red and rows of beehive baskets in the Yellow Garden.
The irises in the Iris Garden had faded, but it is one of the largest gardens with a pond as the focal point and much to see even when the star flower has passed her prime (a sign of a skilled gardener who understands the garden as theater).
This path just beyond the gift shop and the café leads to the Cutting Garden and the Butterfly House (not part of Ladew’s original plan, but lovely nevertheless), and beyond that, the Meadow Garden.
As I was strolling, I heard another visitor say to her companion that she could just stay here all day, which I think is what many people feel moving from garden to garden and looking up and down and across the sweeping vistas of this place created by a man who said he knew very little about gardening and that what he learned he learned by making mistakes.
He also said that one should “never be under the weather,” because “there are so many other places to go.”