Garden lovers find opportunities at Ladew

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Barbara Barnoff

“My early memories of volunteering at Ladew are of selling admissions at a card table near the front gate and hoping people would come in and visit the gardens,” recalled volunteer Molly Edgar. 

That was well over 40 years ago and long before Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton became a public garden (it used to be part of a private home).

Today, the Ladew manor house and its 22 acres of gardens — with more than 100 topiaries (shrubs and trees trimmed into ornamental shapes) — regularly attract more than 30,000 visitors each year from all over the world.

Just as Edgar is celebrating 40 years as a Ladew volunteer, Ladew Topiary Gardens is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a public garden this year.

As a nonprofit organization with limited staff, the many programs, events and garden care would not be possible without the dedication of its volunteers, like Edgar, who go “above and beyond,” said Volunteer Director Betsey Barringer.

Long history

The beginnings of Ladew date back to 1929, when Harvey S. Ladew was lured to the Maryland countryside because it was ideally suited for his favorite sport — foxhunting.

Ladew had hunted here during several seasons and became so enamored with the area that he purchased the property adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, known as Pleasant Valley Farm.

Though Ladew described the old farm house as “handsome,” it had no plumbing, electricity or heat. According to garden writer Dee Hardie, Ladew spent the next 10 years stretching “his house to the whims of his imagination and needs, and to make it more comfortable for his way of life — which was a very entertaining one, especially during the fox hunting season. It was a house of fun and leisure.”

Once the house was to his liking, it was only natural that the surrounding property would be the focus of Ladew’s next creative endeavor, given his great love of gardening.

Though Ladew said he knew “little” about gardening, he helped landscape the 22-acre property with imaginative topiary and divided it into 15 themed garden “rooms.”

In the early 1960s, Ladew began opening his home and gardens to the public for their enjoyment. “I’d love to have them come and visit my garden. I created it for people,” he told an interviewer.

It was about then that Molly Edgar and her family, who had just relocated to Baltimore County from Howard County, learned about Pleasant Valley Farm through St. James Academy, where her children attended school.

Edgar’s love of people and education and Ladew’s growing need for volunteers were a perfect fit. While she began selling admission tickets, Edgar quickly became even more involved in making the gardens and manor house into what they are today.

Using her experience as an active volunteer docent at the Walters Art Museum, Edgar was instrumental in creating the docent program at Ladew and has also served on the board of trustees.

“Molly is a treasured and still very active volunteer at Ladew,” said Barringer. “She has researched information on the paintings displayed in the manor house and has led education programs for docents and Ladew supporters.

“Molly also coordinates all the volunteers for the Ladew concert series (no simple task!) and can often be seen greeting and assisting visitors at concert admissions,” Barringer added. “She is an enthusiastic supporter of Ladew and will do anything you ask of her with a smile.”

Numerous volunteer opportunities exist, including openings for docents, office and gift shop assistants, leaders of children’s and special activities, garden maintenance and more. To learn more about volunteering, contact or call (410) 557-9570.

The gardens, manor house and nature walk are open from April through October, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Admission, including a house tour, is $13 ($11 for students and those 62+; $5 for 12 and under).

For more information, including November/December events and summer concerts, visit

Barbara Barnoff is Ladew’s visitor services and marketing coordinator.