Although she works for a public garden, located just minutes from her Monkton home, Emerick says she is no horticulturalist but rather an intuitive gardener. She grew up in “old Ruxton,” which she describes as a neighborhood of large yards where residents had formal gardens—think elegantly clipped boxwood hedges and Asian-inspired koi ponds. Emerick’s mother was a vegetable garden enthusiast. Her youth in this verdant culture left an impression.
“It’s driven home the importance of the early education nature programming we do at Ladew because I know how formative it was 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 importance. My own kids spent their childhood on a blanket or in a playpen while I was always five feet away digging in the dirt.”
Emerick’s garden, with its lush and charming perennial beds entwined with beautiful trees, bears little resemblance to the formal and expensive elegance of the public garden she’s overseen since she became executive director in 2002. Yet she says it’s impossible to imagine her garden without the influence of Ladew.
Not only does the garden inspire her creatively, it gives her practical tips, as well.
“I come here every day and see the importance of basic things, like mulch: I see the dangers and invasives and the benefits of natives; I see the importance of bones and best horticultural practices.
“But also, as a benefit of my job, I have visited so many gardens, and on average we have 10 lectures a year that I’ve attended for 20 years,” she continues. “I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people who have some of the most core knowledge of plants and garden design.”
Another important role Ladew has played in her home garden is as a supplier of plants. Emerick explains that she enjoys collecting plants she loves—and is then tasked with figuring out how to make her finds fit into her gardens.
For a plant hunter, there’s no better stalking ground than Ladew’s annual Garden Festival, which will celebrate its 15th year in May 2023. The event draws regional plant vendors displaying an exquisite variety of specimens. Emerick says the Ladew staff never take the best pick of the bunch, “but we do hover and hope it will still be available,” she laughs.
The festival is time- and labor-intensive. Late one evening, Emerick was helping a plant vendor load his truck by the headlights of her car after the day’s events. “Just as he was loading the pot into his truck, I said, ‘Wait a minute, what is that?’ I didn’t see that earlier.’” She grabbed the plant, a variegated yew, paid $40 on the spot, and used it to anchor one of her gardens.