Tulips beckon many to Guilford gardens


May 01, 1994|By Beth Smith | Beth Smith,Special to The Sun

When tulips begin to bloom in late April or early May, Guilford residents take note. They know their premier north Baltimore City neighborhood of gracious homes, sitting serenely on landscaped lots, is about to be besieged.

Thousands of flower-lovers will descend on the large plot of green bordered by Greenway, Stratford, Underwood and Highfield roads. They will come to savor, for free, the beauty of Sherwood Gardens, 7 1/4 acres of open space bedded with more than 78,000 Dutch tulip bulbs.

This annual pilgrimage has been going on since the late 1920s, when industrialist John W. Sherwood decided to share with the public the private gardens he created behind his mansion on Highfield Road.

The Guilford Association, a community group comprising by deed all Guilford homeowners, bought 3 1/2 acres of his gardens after Mr. Sherwood died in 1965.

The property was combined with adjoining Stratford Green, a small public park maintained by the association, and members of the Guilford garden committee undertook a revitalization of the grounds that turned the fading flower beds once again into floral showcases.

"What is really nice is that our gardens are gorgeous all at once, usually about the first two weeks in May depending on the weather, and then they are passive, so we only have the crowds for a short time," says Ann Hopkins, 64, a former president of the Guilford Association and a current board member, who has lived in Guilford for more than 50 years.

"Then, usually over Memorial Day weekend, we have our annual Tulip Dig, when the public is invited to come to the gardens with their own trowels, and dig as many bulbs as they want," she says. The bulbs are sold for 25 cents each, and "we plant new bulbs every fall and the money we raise from the Tulip Dig helps pay for the new ones."

Today, when people buy a house in Guilford, they are also buying, in a small but significant way, into Sherwood Gardens, because maintaining the public parks, of which Sherwood Gardens is the star, is a major responsibility of the community association, which got its start in 1914. Although the city of Baltimore allots Sherwood Gardens $23,000, this is about a quarter of what it takes to care for the plantings.

The association raises the rest through donations and fund-raising events. The "Movable Feast" raises money by inviting Guilford homeowners to a black-tie dinner at various homes in the neighborhood.

This year, though, the fund-raising is centered around the BSO Show House, the sixth one to be located in Guilford, says Arthur Davis III, 50, who lived there from 1955 to 1965. He is president of Chase Fitzgerald and Co., a real estate firm in Roland Park, and the Maryland Association of Realtors.

Stately mansions

It is not surprising that decorator show houses come to Guilford. The area is awash in stately old mansions, many designed by top architects of the era, including Edward L. Palmer, W. D. Lamdin and Laurence Hall Fowler.

"Many Guilford homes were built either before the first world war or right after it, when building was of the highest quality," says Mr. Davis. "Houses tend to be large center-hall Georgians, Tudors or Spanish-styled homes, made from brick, stone or stucco, sitting on good-size lots."

The Guilford Association is charged with preserving these homes and enforcing the Guilford deed and agreement.

"The association regulates all types of things such as painting or putting up fences and must approve any exterior architectural change to a house, such as an addition," says Timothy Chriss, president of the Guilford Association and a local attorney who bought his Georgian Colonial in 1978. "And, we work hard to preserve the residential character of the neighborhood."

By deed, only single-family homes are allowed within the boundaries, which roughly include Cold Spring Lane to the north, Linkwood Road to the west, Greenmount Avenue to the east and Southway to the south.

Coming up from downtown, the entrance sign to Guilford sits just north of University Parkway at St. Paul Street.

The sign marks one of the three public parks created within Guilford when the neighborhood was being planned by Edward H. Bouton, the visionary developer who fathered Roland Park, and landscape architects John C. and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., sons of Central Park creator Frederick Law Olmsted.

Bouton's scheme for the emerging suburbs called for developments designed for the upper class and new upper-middle class in an area north of the city and sandwiched between Falls Road and Greenmount Avenue.

Bouton was delighted to get his hands on 292 acres, formerly the estate of Arunah S. Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun, that rested squarely in his area of interest.

The property had been the home of a General McDonald, who was wounded at the battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina during the Revolutionary War.

Around 1850, his son William inherited the estate, on which he built Guilford, a Victorian mansion with a distinctive tower and Italianate styling.

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