Perfectly Delightful: The Life and Gardens of Harvey Ladew

Perfectly Delightful: The Life and Gardens of Harvey Ladew

by Christopher Weeks
     
 

He played piano with Cole Porter. He rode horseback in the Hollywood Hills with Clark Gable. He partied with Elsa Maxwell. He ate snails with the French writer Colette, in bed. It was all, as he often said, "perfectly delightful."

Few more colorful figures embellish American cultural history than the late Harvey S. Ladew, wealthy socialite, fox hunter, artist

Overview

He played piano with Cole Porter. He rode horseback in the Hollywood Hills with Clark Gable. He partied with Elsa Maxwell. He ate snails with the French writer Colette, in bed. It was all, as he often said, "perfectly delightful."

Few more colorful figures embellish American cultural history than the late Harvey S. Ladew, wealthy socialite, fox hunter, artist, traveler, and -- at his country estate outside Baltimore -- creator of the nation's most admired topiary garden.

In "Perfectly Delightful": The Life and Gardens of Harvey Ladew, Christopher Weeks offers an immensely readable, chatty account of Ladew's life and the glittering world he inhabited. When Ladew bought his Maryland farm in 1929, he had already lived a life few, if any, could equal: born into the upper stratum of New York society in 1887, he spoke French before he spoke English and took boyhood drawing lessons from Met curators. As an adult he gave decorating instructions to Billy Baldwin (the dean of American interior design), lived as the houseguest of the maharajah of Kapurthala, took a camel caravan across Arabia (with travel tips kindly provided by his good friend T. E. Lawrence), weekended at the stateliest of England's stately homes, lent his favorite horse to the Prince of Wales, matched wits with Edna Ferber, Noël Coward, Sacheverell Sitwell, Beatrice Lillie, and Dorothy Parker (in English) and with Jean Cocteau and Colette (in French), hunted fox in America, England, Ireland, and Italy, and (with Charlie Chaplin) saw off Gertrude Lawrence as she sailed from New York.

To this fascinating story of multicontinental revelry, Weeks attentively adds the background and development ofLadew's unique and wonderful Maryland garden, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, and his important role as an early environmentalist. When he began his garden in 1929, Ladew broke new artistic ground, for he was perhaps the first person in America to follow the tenets of English arts and crafts garden design. His achievements were featured in Town & Country, House & Garden, (and its French counterpart, Maison et Jardin), Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Garden clubs and gardening tourists from four continents strove to outdo one another in praise. This acclaim culminated in 1971, when the Garden Club of America gave Ladew its Distinguished Achievement Award.

To bring readers the remarkable story of Ladew and his gardens, Christopher Weeks draws on photo albums, scrapbooks, garden catalogs, thousands of pages of garden memoranda, an unfinished hand-scrawled autobiography, hundreds of letters, and guestbooks that read like a cross between Variety and Burke's Peerage. Photographs reproduced from Ladew's albums -- some taken by him, some by leading photographers of the day, including many by his friend Horst -- illustrate the text. Scores of interviews with Ladew's friends from New York to Florida help to illuminate this remarkable personality.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Harvey Ladews one significant accomplishment was to create a 22-acre garden in Maryland that was the first American garden to make considerable use of topiary. Ladew was born into upper-crust New York society in 1887 and lived a life of leisure, where his most strenuous activity for many years was an annual foxhunting trip to England. This was how he came to know and appreciate topiary. Weeks, an architectural historian and officer of the foundation Ladew created to care for his garden after his death in 1976, presents a chatty, uncritical account of Ladews life. Ladew was a gifted amateur, but his life of travel, parties, and hobnobbing with the rich and famous, including maharajahs, Lawrence of Arabia, the Prince of Wales, Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, and Colette, among many others, will be of interest only to those who need every bit of information about topiary gardens. Recommended only for specialized gardening collections.Daniel Starr, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801861123
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
04/16/1999
Pages:
279
Product dimensions:
7.26(w) x 10.26(h) x 1.02(d)

Meet the Author

An architectural historian, Christopher Weeks serves on the consulting committee of the Ladew Topiary Gardens, the foundation Harvey Ladew established to care for his unique creation. Weeks has written or edited a dozen books on architecture and gardening and contributes frequently to periodicals such as the Green Scene, American Heritage and Country Life, Harvey Ladew's favorite magazine.

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