Group aims to make Ellicott City's 225th birthday a flowery one

June 06, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

The 225th anniversary of Ellicott City's founding is still three years away, but a group of landscape architects, historians, educators and middle school students are already drafting plans for the event.

Calling itself "Ellicott City 225," the group intends to plant flowers, shrubs and trees popular from 1700 to 1850 throughout the historic district at prominent intersections and sites.

"All we want to do is plant plants and sing 'Happy Birthday,' " said Cynthia Hirshberg, an Ellicott City resident who organized the volunteer group.

The group began work Saturday on the project's first phase: clearing weeds and debris from a vacant lot between the Fire House Museum and Masonic Temple on Church Road near Old Columbia Pike.

This coming Saturday, the group will return to the 3,500-square-foot site to plant a variety of vegetation, including sunflowers, daylilies, winter jasmine and black-eyed Susans.

If the plantings "enhance the community, we will have succeeded," said John Slater, a landscape architect who has a firm in Columbia.

The group also hopes to plant flowers at the base of St. Luke's AME Church on Main Street, St. Paul's Historic Cemetery near the intersection of Frederick Road and Rogers Avenue, and the Patapsco Female Institute.

The group is starting the project now so all flowers at the various sites will be in bloom by 1997, the year of the 225th anniversary.

A poster from Ellicott City's 1972 bicentennial inspired Ms. Hirshberg to begin the project. "I'd start daydreaming about singing 'Happy Birthday' and planting flowers," she said.

Ms. Hirshberg sought help from her co-workers at the county Bureau of Environmental Services. Her colleagues in turn led her to people who could make her vision a reality.

Many members said they joined the group because of their love for the historic district.

"We wanted to join in with all the people who are working to spruce up Ellicott City for its 225th birthday," said Katherine Potocki, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Patapsco Middle School who enlisted a group of her students in the effort.

"I've always admired Ellicott City," said Randolph Peters, regional parks supervisor of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

In addition to planting flowers, the group will identify a commemorative flower, shrub and tree with the help of horticultural experts from the William Paca House and Gardens, Hampton National Historic Site and the American Horticultural Society.

Dr. Marc Cathey, president of the American Horticultural Society in Alexandria, Va., is also helping the group find the original species of native plants -- a daunting task since many indigenous plants have been crossbred with species from other areas.

"It's a very interesting challenge," Dr. Cathey said. "It's a fascinating puzzle."

Dr. Cathey said many plants today did not exist 225 years ago because they have been bred with different species from different parts of the world. Many plants are also chemical dependent, he said. Roses, for example, used to bloom once a year but now bloom throughout the year thanks to chemicals that regulate growth and destroy pests.

To find the plants, project organizers will rely on native plant collectors rather than nurseries which tend to carry hybrids and exotic plants that aren't native to Maryland, he said.

Native plants can be grown without the use of chemicals or crossbreeding, Dr. Cathey said, if the plant is placed in its correct environment with appropriate shade, sunlight and soil.

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