They are a small cadre of senior citizens now, pursuing the same simple mission they had when they planted their first flower bed at St. Paul and Centre streets a quarter century ago.
The die-hard city gardeners named their group Beautiful Baltimore. They've been quietly living up to their name ever since, donating 100,000 flower bulbs and trees to a city that could never afford them.
Last week, the gardening compatriots were at it again, donating 800 King Alfred daffodil bulbs to transform an unimpressive triangle of land in Seton Hill at Paca Street and Druid Hill Avenue into a showcase for next spring.
Tom Kravitz, president of Seton Hill Neighborhood Association, was there to oversee the planting, which will be followed by a sign noting the Seton Hill historic district.
As usual, Beautiful Baltimore worked with the city horticulture department to get the job done. City horticulturist William Stine, grateful for the donation of the large yellow daffodils that will bloom in early spring, was there with a seven-person crew to plant the bulbs in a simple design that he outlined in biodegradable paint.
In just an hour, the crew members dug 800 holes in the soft grass between a scraggly crab apple and a zelkova tree, and dropped a big bulb into each hole.
The flower contribution is about as frugal as the group could get. At 36 cents a bulb, they will bloom -- and spread -- for about 10 years without maintenance.
"That's 3 cents apiece each year," said Betty Nalwasky, the group's president. "You get your money's worth."
The city horticulture division is so strapped for funds these days that they added no fertilizer to the bulbs, although fertilizing is a common practice among home gardeners.
"It's an extravagance the city can't afford," said Stine, noting that he works with a small staff of 25.
That's half the number of horticulture employees who worked for the city in 1971, when Beautiful Baltimore got started.
Beautiful Baltimore was founded at the suggestion of Evening Sun gardening writer Francis M. Rackemann and named by Honolulu McKeldin, wife of former mayor and governor Theodore R. McKeldin.
The group's first job was to finance a water connection to a triangle of land at St. Paul and Centre streets and plant a bed of cannas, scarlet sage and marigolds that bloomed the same summer that a city councilman named William Donald Schaefer was campaigning for mayor. Those flower beds are long gone.
But since then, the group has been teaching public school children how to plant seedlings, giving awards to the city's finest gardeners and beautifying dozens of median strips that the city can't afford to plant itself -- which today is just about anywhere but the Inner Harbor.
Their decades of work also can be found on Potee Street, Northern Parkway, Loch Raven Boulevard and Gwynns Falls Parkway.
But it hasn't been easy to keep the flower beds intact.
For the past several years, Beautiful Baltimore's aging members have had to contend with city crews that mow daffodils after they bloom.
"Some people and politicians thought it should look more pristine, so they mowed them down, preventing the bulbs from regenerating enough food for next year," said Stine, noting that the Northern Parkway median strip near Pimlico was a favorite place for mowers trying to make the city look good at Preakness time.
Finally, after a few years of complaining, the mowing stopped on most of the flower beds.
Despite the minor setbacks -- and the fact that they're having trouble recruiting younger members -- the group continues to make donations to the city.
This year, to commemorate its 25th anniversary, Beautiful Baltimore planted 25 crape myrtle shrubs in June along a serpentine walkway at Preston Gardens, a turn-of-the century park on St. Paul Place across the street from Mercy Medical Center.
They chose crape myrtle because it's about the only shrub that blooms in late summer.
"There isn't any money in the city to do what we do," said Licien "Lun" Harris, a founder and past president of Beautiful Baltimore. "And there wasn't any money when we started either."
Pub Date: 10/15/96