At most formal gardens, my wife and I wander from one fountain-laden landscape to another, glumly thinking: Why can't we do this at home? We probably could, if we had the energy, the expertise and the cash. But mostly the cash.
No such problem at Ladew Topiary Gardens, just north of Baltimore in Monkton, Md., where on a balmy Saturday afternoon we toured 15 mini-Edens spread over 22 acres. The property includes dozens of topiaries, which are shrubs trimmed into fanciful shapes; at Ladew, they include a wedge of swans, a victory sign and a heart with an arrow delicately slicing through it.
We decided we already have topiaries in our yard -- if you buy the argument that the rounded bushes rimming our house depict bowling balls.
Harvey S. Ladew, an avid Anglophile, fox hunter and gardener, bought the property in 1929 and quickly went to work renovating the resident farmhouse and grounds. Before his death in 1976, he set up a nonprofit foundation to ensure that his home and gardens would be preserved and open to the public.
Truth be told, while the topiaries are pretty cool (the yew hounds and yew horse-and-rider chasing a yew fox at the garden entrance are amazing but, heck, you can see those for free), it's the more conventional parts of the garden that captivate. Waves of tulip-filled beds teeming with soon-to-flower annuals and perennials, and simple, elegant fountains drowned out (or tried to, at least) the cars rushing by outside towering garden hedges. The Great Bowl is a wide expanse of grass where kids can run amok while their parents rest, and the woodland and Victorian gardens are oases of shade fronted by a giant topiary caterpillar.
One of our favorite features was the tiny Tivoli Tea House, whose facade was once the ticket booth for London's Tivoli Theatre. You can't go in, but after peeking through a window at the cozy chairs tucked around a fireplace, I started thinking about finding a new home for my lawn mower and installing a tea set in my garden shed.
After a 45-minute tour of the Ladew house -- with its plethora of foxabilia (hunting was a big part of Ladew's life), pictures of British royalty and a killer Staffordshire china collection -- we made our way to the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, about 15 minutes away.
There wasn't a tea house, nor were fox pelts mounted on our room's walls, but if we squinted, the shrubs outside our window looked exactly like . . . shrubs.
-- John Deiner
Admission to Ladew Topiary Gardens (3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, Md., 410-557-9466, www.ladewgardens.com), including the house tour, is $13. We paid $128.82, including taxes and breakfast buffet, for one night at the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn (245 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, Md., 410-785-7000, www.marriott.com). Dinner at Carrabba's Italian Grill (130-34 Shawan Rd.) was $45.36, including wine.
Total: $200.18 for two.