Roadside flower garden is slice of Eden in Wilna

HARFORD PEOPLE

July 09, 1995|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

Mary Greenfield's garden began as a patch of love for her mother. She planted some flowers near her mailbox on Old Joppa Road, across from her home in Wilna so her mother could look out the window and enjoy the beauty.

That was 22 years ago. Today Mrs. Greenfield's garden stretches for nearly 1,000 feet along Old Joppa Road -- a rainbow of daffodils, tulips, azaleas, blue irises, larkspur, daisies, black-eyed Susans, day lilies and zinnia. There are many more varieties, too numerous to list.

It didn't grow by accident, but by dint of Mrs. Greenfield's loving hard work. A retired florist, Mrs. Greenfield, 73, has worked her garden with passion and determination.

"She's an amazing lady," said Dr. William Howard, a surgeon at Union Memorial Hospital and the owner of Olney Farm, a 225-acre historical estate across from Mrs. Greenfield's home. He also owns the ground where her garden grows, and that's fine with him.

"It's beautiful," he said. "People will drive out of their way just to look at her garden."

The 4-foot-wide strip of blooming plants winds along a stretch of Old Joppa Road south of Bel Air. Mrs. Greenfield can be seen most days, on her knees, pulling up weeds or dead flowers.

People stop by quite a bit to compliment her.

"I'm amazed at the number of men who stop when I'm out there working, who tell me they enjoy it," 7p,6l she said with a smile. "I had one woman tell me, 'When my husband comes around that corner, he just wants to clap his hands, they look so pretty.' And the wife tells him, 'Don't clap your hands when you're driving!' "

One of the men in the neighborhood worried about her safety because some drivers roar along Old Joppa Road at speeds far exceeding the posted limit of 30 miles per hour. So he made her a sign. It's yellow, with black lettering and reads: "CAUTION: Flower Lady at Work."

But in all her years of working the garden, Mrs. Greenfield has never been struck -- never even come close. "I can hear them coming around the corner, and you can tell how fast they are going by how loud they are. When I hear them reckless ones coming, I jump up on the bank. I am careful," she said.

Like the gentle green strands of her sweet pea, a blooming vine that clings to a fenced area of the garden, flowers and Old Joppa Road have been entwined with Mrs. Greenfield's life.

She grew up in Joppa, on Old Joppa Road, and when she was met a man at a church function who would become her husband. "Blind date, a church straw ride," she said. George Greenfield was 18, and lived two miles away on the same road.

Back then, "he would walk down the road to see me, because he didn't have a car," she said.

In 1940, they married, and moved into a rented house off Route 40 near Joppa until their own home could be built. They moved in 1941, and Mrs. Greenfield has lived there ever since.

The Greenfields had two daughters -- Marjorie, who now lives in Pylesville, and Carolyn, who lives in Columbia. George served briefly in the Navy during World War II, and the couple lived happily in their small home.

Out back, Mrs. Greenfield planted flowers, which bloomed into a huge garden over a few years.

"My husband said, 'Gee whiz, if you want to work with flowers, let's make a business out of it,' " she remembered.

They did just that. In 1953, they opened Greenfield Florist on Main Street in Bel Air in a building cater-cornered to the Court House.

"That was when you knew everybody in town walking up and down the street," Mrs. Greenfield said. "We had a nice little business -- wasn't a big business, but a nice little business. George and I could manage what we had. We were just simple people who just wanted to make a living."

After 15 years, George was tired of the stress of running the florist shop. Holidays were too busy and hectic for him. So they sold their shop to Don Flowers Inc.

Mrs. Greenfield continued working at the flower shop, under the new owner, until her mother, who was in failing health, moved in with them in 1973. Then she started her garden.

Five years ago this summer, George Greenfield died. He was 70.

Three years ago, Mary Greenfield developed cancer that required surgery and chemotherapy.

But this year she is feeling better, and again has the energy to fight the weeds while loving her flowers.

"I just find that I got to get out here every day and do something, or else I'll get behind," she said. She works in the mornings and afternoons -- although not during the afternoon rush hour, because of traffic.

Usually, she's working by 8 a.m. But on hot days, she gets out by 6 a.m. to beat the heat. "You can only work a couple of hours when it's hot," she said.

Her passion for her flowers is unending. She has relatives who live all over the country, with "open invitations" from all of them to take a trip and visit, Mrs. Greenfield said. But she doesn't go.

She's lived on Old Joppa Road her entire life, and likes it this way.

The home of her husband's family -- now owned by someone else -- is behind her property. And two doors down is her church, the Union Chapel United Methodist Church.

When she sits on her porch in the evening and looks across the street, she sees horses, green fields and even the two-room schoolhouse -- now a church -- where her husband went to school.

Mostly, though, she sees flowers.

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