Emily Emerick is influenced by her work at Ladew Topiary Gardens

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Although she works for a public garden, located a few minutes from her Monkton home, Emerick says she is not a horticulturist but rather an intuitive gardener. She grew up in “old Ruxton,” which she describes as a neighborhood of large courtyards where residents had formal gardens — think elegantly trimmed boxwood hedges and Asian-inspired koi ponds. Emerick’s mother was a gardening enthusiast. His youth in this verdant culture marked the spirits.

“It made me realize how important the early nature education programs we offer in Ladew are because I know how formative they have been in my own life,” she says.

“My mother died when I was 17,” she continues. “As I got older and had my own family, my memories of being with her in the garden took on more significance. My own children spent their childhood on a blanket or in a playpen when I was always five feet away to dig in the ground.

Emerick’s garden, with its lush and charming beds of perennials intertwined with beautiful trees, bears little resemblance to the formal, expensive elegance of the public garden she’s overseen since becoming chief executive in 2002. Still, she says that it is impossible to imagine his garden without the influence of Ladew.

Not only does the garden inspire her creatively, but it also gives her practical advice.

“I come here every day and I see the importance of basic things, like mulch: I see the dangers and the invaders and the benefits of the natives; I see the importance of bones and best horticultural practices.

“But also, as part of my job, I’ve visited so many gardens, and on average we have 10 conferences a year that I’ve been attending for 20 years,” she continues. “I had the opportunity to speak with people who have some of the most fundamental knowledge about plants and garden design.”

Another important role that Ladew played in his home garden was that of plant provider. Emerick explains that she enjoys collecting the plants she likes and is then tasked with figuring out how to incorporate her finds into her gardens.

For a plant hunter, there is no better hunting ground than the annual Ladew Garden Festival, which will celebrate its 15th year in May 2023. The event attracts regional plant vendors displaying an exquisite variety of specimens . Emerick says Ladew’s staff never takes the best pick of the bunch, “but we’re high and hopeful he’ll still be available,” she laughs.

The festival requires a lot of time and manpower. Late in the evening, Emerick was helping a factory saleswoman load her truck in front of her car’s headlights after the day’s events. “Just as he was loading the pot into his truck, I said, ‘Wait a minute, what is this? I haven’t seen this before.’ She grabbed the plant, a variegated yew, paid $40 on the spot, and used it to anchor one of her gardens.

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