Spring may officially be a few weeks away, but the season is already in full bloom at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, where local nurseries and landscaping firms are hard at work setting up elaborate indoor garden displays that defy the winter chill.
And when the Maryland Home and Flower Show opens its doors to the public on Wednesday, there will be secluded gardens, cozy patios, tranquil ponds, rustic, wooded settings and serene parks to stroll through in climate-controlled comfort.
"The biggest highlight is going indoors in the wintertime and seeing gardens in full bloom," said Jay Plummer, who is coordinating the show for S & L Productions. "But the show is also a place to get ideas and even buy all types of products and services for the home and garden."
Visitors will get their first taste of an early spring when they step through the doors of the fairgrounds' summertime Cow Palace and onto a boulevard leading through the park-like entrance garden designed by the Robert A. Schultz -- the nursery which won the "Best in Show" award for its garden last year.
Large evergreen trees and rolling hillsides will form the backdrop for the park, which will feature shrubs, bulbs and perennials and include authentic reproductions of Charleston Battery Benches. Drawings will be held daily for the benches, which are made from cypress wood slats with cast-iron molded sides, like the originals produced in South Carolina in the mid-1800s.
From the entrance garden, visitors may head for the home or flower side of the show. In the home portion, there will be Chinese cooking and home improvement project demonstrations. About 350 booths will display products ranging from hot tubs, carpeting and furniture to retractable awnings and video baby monitoring systems. Services available will include housecleaning and home building.
The flower show will have a marketplace filled with plants, flowers and gardening supplies. The Department of Natural Resources will distribute free white pine seedlings to its first 10,000 visitors. There will also be educational exhibits, seminars on lawn and garden care and demonstrations of flower arranging.
The garden arena will be filled with 20 theme displays, all competing for ribbons.
A display created by Willow Crest Water Gardens features a gazebo and a waterfall which cascades down through ferns and mosses into a large pond. Cross a bridge and there are large Japanese koi swimming near water lilies, water lettuce, water hyacinths, giant and dwarf Egyptian papyrus and umbrella palms.
Cedar Ridge Landscape has created a sitting area defined by an ornamental trellis, a Pennsylvania bluestone patio and benches. Plantings will include a mixture of evergreens, perennials, ground cover and ornamental grasses.
The gardens will vary greatly in theme, style and effect. Exterior Design will feature a sunken patio with an elevated lawn and garden. A lattice screen will serve as backdrop to primrose, pansies, lavender, coral bells and dianthus. The garden will also include Japanese black pines, cherry trees, azaleas, rhododendron and dogwood trees.
Edrich Farms Nursery has combined forces with Twin Oaks Landscape Contractors of Woodbine as well as two other family- owned companies -- Edrich Lumber and Edrich Mills Woodshop -- to create a woodland cabin retreat.
There will be a furnished cedar-sided cottage and a secluded rear garden with a small pond surrounded by cherry trees as well as large white pines and Norway spruce trees. Garden beds will be filled with masses of bleeding hearts, columbine, fox glove, Oriental poppies and 5,000 bulbs.
Chapel Hills Farm and Nursery of Perry Hall will feature a spring wagon in a walk-through patio garden. There will be spring blooming trees and an assortment of evergreens and perennials as well as a small pond with a fountain and Japanese koi.
A second garden will feature a wedding scene with a white, canopied carriage, or vis-a-vis. The carriage is available for rental for weddings, proms, parades and other special events. The farm owns two Clydesdales which pull the carriage.
Maxalea Nurseries will present a native American setting with an Indian dwelling and plants that are indigenous to the mid-Atlantic region. In a separate exhibit, Simonds Nursery will emphasize the preservation of native plants in a naturalistic early American scene and a modern sculpture garden.
Worthington Gardens will demonstrate container gardening on a landscaped deck filled with pots of vegetables, annual summer flowers and herbs. And a shady backyard garden with a pond and native plants in a natural landscape will be presented by the Cylburn Arboretum Association as an economical alternative to exotic plants.
Such a garden requires less labor, water and pesticides to maintain, and will support a diversity of wildlife.