MONKTON, Md. — On a hot August day, Andrea Naft finds a spot in the shade to set up her easel and brushes at Ladew Topiary Gardens.
"Its just so beautiful and I love to paint," she said. "I’ve come here occasionally in the fall or the spring and I realized this is 20 minutes from my house. I can come up here and just enjoy the day and enjoy the butterflies."
Naft is one of many who are discovering, or re-discovering, the beauty and charm that Ladew has to offer.
Emily Emerick, the executive director of Ladew, says when the pandemic first hit last year, they saw a steady stream of visitors come to the gardens. People were looking for a safe place to venture out while staying close to home.
"We have 22 acres of gardens and then the nature walk, and the meadow and the butterfly house. Plenty of room for people to spread out," she said.
"We’ve been delighted to see much larger, diverse families from all over Maryland coming to visit and becoming members, so we’re really appreciative."
Ladew is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year of becoming a non-profit in 1971. Emerick says its history goes back to 1929 when a man named Harvey Ladew came to Maryland from New York to pursue his love of fox hunting.
"[He] took his many years of travel throughout Great Britain and Europe and created gardens that reflected his fondest memories," she said. "[The topiaries] are for the most part all created by him and then maintained by our incredible horticultural staff."
The more than 100 topiaries on the grounds includes the walls and doors to the garden rooms plus a variety of animals and objects. There is also a Hunt Scene which depicts a rider on horseback, with dogs chasing a fox near Ladew's home, which is back open to public tours.
A team of professional garden staff help to maintain the topiaries, plus other plants on the property, and they do it on a very specific schedule.
"It is a multi-faceted challenge because they have to keep the plants healthy and then they have to shear them. And they shear them based on the plant schedule, not on our schedule," Emerick said.
While the topiaries are the stars of the show, there are other attractions in the gardens and not all of them grow in the ground.
"Art in Our Gardens", for example, features artists of different mediums. Currently, there are 23 bronze sculptures placed throughout the gardens created by J Clayton Bright. And in October, Anne Thompson will have her artwork of pressed plants on display at the Annual Art Show and Sale.
There is also the Butterfly House, which just reopened for the season. Its home to native species found on the property and gives visitors the opportunity to see the life cycle of these delicate, colorful insects.
"Everybody gets a chance to see what a caterpillar egg looks like, what a caterpillar for a variety of butterflies look like, and then to see all the butterflies," she said. "And if you’re lucky, a chrysalis and maybe even a butterfly emerging."
Even as pandemic restrictions and mandates have eased and people begin to travel more, Emerick says they've continued to see a steady flow of visitors coming to Ladew.
"When we poll our visitors, what people say to us is that this place brings them peace, enjoyment relaxation. It’s rejuvenating and boy do we all need things like that in our lives right now."
"I’m glad we can be a bit of a salve for the broader community and we encourage people to come out and take a look."
Emerick said they do plan to hold one of their biggest events, Garden Glow, in person this year in October. For ticket information, click here.