Garden Club finds power in planting NORTH COUNTY/Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park * Pumphrey

June 07, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

For two decades, they've served as self-appointed guardians of the old railroad town's appearance.

They've bagged truckloads of garbage and debris, erected community signs at Ferndale's borders, closely monitored light rail's construction and lobbied for touches at the new station like the brick clock tower and hipped roof reminiscent of one torn down long ago.

The Ferndale Garden Club is about more than pretty flowers.

Today, the club's imprint can be seen all around the town, from the manicured area along the railroad right of way to the whiskey barrels with flowers blooming from them outside businesses along Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard.

Over the years, the club also has become synonymous with some long-standing Ferndale traditions it helps organize, like the annual community Christmas tree lighting, Ferndale Day, flower-arranging and decorating classes at the annual Christmas show and May Day baskets filled with flowers and greenery.

The club, which now has 17 members, began 20 years ago when a group of homemakers got together to learn a thing or two about planting flowers.

One of the founders, Carol Wagner, wife of state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, recalls how the club quickly branched out from home gardening and focused on the rundown appearance of what had once been a thriving railroad town.

"We wanted as nice an entrance to our community as others had," Mrs. Wagner said.

When the club started, for instance, bottles, cans and paper wrappings littered the area along the railroad tracks, used in those days only by freight trains. The grass grew wild, and weeds sprouted unchecked.

"All those years, [since the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad stopped passenger service in 1949], it had been neglected, and no one had ever cleaned it," said Jeannette Lehman, a club member since 1973.

In April 1975, the club agreed to pay the B&A Railroad $6 a year for the right to maintain the right of way. Club members enlisted family and friends and spent several weekends clearing and loading trash into dump trucks.

They planted flowers, azaleas, evergreen shrubs, spring bulbs, juniper trees and white flowering dogwood and Bradford pear trees -- donated by local merchants. They mulched. They erected community entrance signs. They took turns weeding and picking up trash. And they began paying to get the grass cut on a biweekly basis.

Three years ago, state officials made final long-discussed plans for a 22.5-mile light rail line from Timonium to Glen Burnie and broke the news that they would have to level the trees and plants to reconstruct Ferndale's tracks and platform.

Club members, though heartbroken, resigned themselves to the change.

"We knew progress was coming, and we can't stop it, but we wanted to be part of it," Mrs. Wagner said.

Members vowed to make their presence known during light rail construction, acting as overseers to ensure the state replaced plants and built a station with a historic flavor.

The club won an early battle when it convinced Mass Transit Administration officials to top the rail stop's shelter with a hipped roof.

It also lobbied successfully for black benches and trash bins with an old-fashioned, wrought iron look. And when the MTA offered the community $10,000 for a "distinguishing feature" at the stop, garden club leaders joined with other community leaders in choosing a brick clock tower to be inscribed with a description of the town's railroad origins.

Despite the MTA clearing the site, Mrs. Lehman says all the years of hard work paid off. "When the MTA saw what we had done here, they figured they had to do as much," she said, surveying the new platform, bordered by newly planted shrubbery. "I imagine we wouldn't have all this if not for what we'd done."

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