Little wonders sprout for show Home: This year's Rites of Spring will include miniature gardens.


One of the exhibitors at next weekend's Rites of Spring garden show is cutting her lawn with manicure scissors.

Artist Cynthia Padgett, who would normally be in her studio painting, is instead spending her time making tiny clay blossoms. She glues them onto little branches from stores that sell silk or dried flowers. (She's had to search to find ones small enough.)

"I'm not very good at making leaves," she confesses.

The finished rose bushes, hydrangeas and cherry tree are part of the small yard she's created around her daughter's Victorian mansion, one of nine doll houses that will be on display at the tenth annual Rites of Spring, starting next Friday at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

This is the first year for the doll house and miniature garden exhibit at the show, which is sponsored by the Union Memorial Hospital Foundation. It runs through April 14. Proceeds help support hospital programs and services like the Sports Medicine Center, the Raymond M. Curtis Hand Center, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Open Heart Surgery Center and the Eye Center.

The doll house exhibit was inspired by another first. A doll house built by Anthony Meeker will be raffled off as part of the show. The three-story furnished Colonial is currently on display in the main lobby at Union Memorial; raffle tickets are $1 or six for $5, and can be bought at the hospital or the fairgrounds.

Carroll Swarm, co-chairwoman of the event, came up with the idea of tying in an exhibit with the raffle. It seemed like a good one until she tried to find people to create the little landscapes.

"I must have made a zillion calls looking for people," she says. "Most of them told me, 'I'll lend you the doll house, but find someone else to do the garden.' "

Although she hadn't planned to, she ended up tackling one of the miniature landscaping jobs herself -- a yard for another of Anthony Meeker's doll houses.

"It was trickier to do than I thought," she admits.

Other brave souls besides Mrs. Swarm and Mrs. Padgett volunteered, among them Tom Cardinale, whose house has not only electricity but running water; Mary Ann Cover, whose antique townhouse will sport a rooftop garden; and Nancy Martin of Favorite Things, the doll house store. Some owners are creating their own little landscapes; other have someone else helping.

This time of year, says Mrs. Swarm, very little is blooming, so the doll house gardeners will be using some artificial materials, like Cynthia Padgett's clay flowers. Mrs. Padgett and her daughter started baking them in December.

Their garden might not have been so elaborate if this hadn't been such a harsh winter. "It was a great blizzard project," she laughs.

She planted rye grass in spagnum moss and made a stone wall of marble gravel. (She glued the pieces together -- "very time consuming.") Clay wisteria twines around the porch. A small branch has clay blossoms glued on to create a flowering cherry tree.

The garden is a charming mixture of real and artificial plantings.

Because the emphasis is on the gardens and not the doll houses themselves, visitors will only see their fronts. The houses won't be furnished, although you will be able to catch a glimpse of a window curtain or a hanging light fixture.

Each of the exhibitors is working on his or her own, so expect the landscaping to be very different. Mrs. Swarm, for instance, is using bent grass from the greens at a nearby golf club. "It's smooth and small," she says.

Her other materials include tiny flowers like monte casino and baby's breath, diminutive ferns and cuttings from evergreens and boxwood for her trees.

If miniatures aren't your thing, the three-day event will also feature display gardens by landscape architects and "pedestal presentations" -- large, dramatic flower arrangements by local designers.

Some 30 vendors will have boutiques for the home and garden, selling everything from bulbs to hand-smocked dresses. Participants come from as far away as England.

Education is also important at this year's show, with exhibits on recycling and composting, and presentations by the Maryland Native Plant Society and Save Our Streams.

Greenspring Valley Garden Club is sponsoring a flower show, while children's activities include a llama petting pasture.

Over the three days, speakers will lecture on a variety of garden-related subjects. On Friday they will be artist Rosie Porter, "Faux Pot Painting" (11: 30 a.m.); William Stine, "Discovering Cylburn Arboretum" (1: 30 p.m.); and Dru Schmidt-Perkins from Clean Water Action, "Your Home, Your Garden, Your Environment" (3 p.m.). On Saturday the speakers will be Rob Mardiney from the Irvine Natural Science Center, "Birding in Maryland" (noon); landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, "Sustainable Landscape Design" (1: 30 p.m.); and Sylvia Ehrhardt from Ehrhardt Organic Farms, "Organic Farming" (3 p.m.). Alison Webb from Rutland Beard Florist will demonstrate "Arranging with Spring Flowers" at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

The hours of the show are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 a person and $5 for senior citizens. For more information, call (410) 554-2662.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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