Pots of flowers befit pioneer in Cherry Hill

Jacques Kelly

March 16, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Frances Petty is the shamrock lady of Cherry Hill.

Her house overflows with green. There are flower pots in the basement, flower pots in the living room, flower pots in the upstairs rooms. If it's green and it grows, Mrs. Petty cultivates it.

She's also one of her community's most senior residents. She purchased her home in the 400 block of Swale Road in late 1945, when Cherry Hill was being built to meet the demand for housing for defense workers.

"The paint was wet on the wall when I moved in," Mrs. Petty recalls. "There weren't even steps to my house."

Her brother, who worked in Baltimore as an A-raber, brought a load of coal via horse-drawn wagon over the Hanover Street Bridge so she'd have heat on her first night in her new house.

"I put $200 down on the house and paid $12 a week," Mrs. Petty says.

"I love Cherry Hill. People used to put us down here, but as other neighborhoods have changed for the worse, we've stayed nice," she says of the community built along the southern shores of the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. It sits in the southern part of Baltimore, not far from the Anne Arundel County line.

Over the years, Mrs. Petty raised her family here. She retired after a long career with the Social Security Administration. She also found time to serve a term as president of the Cherry Hill Democratic Club. Her husband, Ulysses Petty, known throughout the community as Barney, died several years ago.

Mrs. Petty spent her childhood on Llewelyn Avenue in East Baltimore. Her father, William H. Owens, operated several bootblack parlors and repaired windup Victrola phonographs. He also bred and sold canaries.

"I was my father's favorite. . . . He raised homing pigeons. He had a big, two-story coop. He belonged to a club and clocked his pigeons. They'd take them down to North Carolina and let them go on a Saturday. By Sunday, they'd be back.

"When things got a little tough financially and we had too many birds, my mother made pigeon pot pie. We called it squab. They made for delicious eating. You can fry them or stew them, too.

"I scrubbed marble steps for 10 cents and cleaned kitchens for a quarter. I had regular customers," Mrs. Petty says.

She attributes her love of plants and flowers to her father, who got a WPA (Works Progress Administration) job tending flower beds at Druid Hill Park in the 1930s.

"He loved his roses. He planted all the hedges around this house," she says of her large corner house with its shrubs and ornamental fruit trees.

Mrs. Petty began collecting and raising house plants some years ago when she and her daughter would go out for Sunday drives. One day, they stopped at Beneke's, the large garden shop in Beltsville. There, Mrs. Petty bought her first African violets.

She soon developed a weakness for all sorts of indoor plants, especially African violets and shamrocks (oxalis). She also loves terrarium gardening and coaxes lush blooms from exotic flora.

"I'm a positive person and will try anything. One day, I decided this house was too small. I decided to build on a new kitchen. I piled building materials and paneling on the roof of my little car. The paneling came untied and blew off on the Ritchie Highway. That didn't stop me. Inside of a few months, I had my kitchen," she says.

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