Gardens that will put a spring in your step


March 23, 2000|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,Special to the Sun

Spring is finally here, and what better way to celebrate the season than to immerse yourself in plants, flowers and gardens? If you're looking for public gardens, you have plenty of options all around the Baltimore area.

From Baltimore to Washington, from Annapolis to Harford County, there are gardens, garden tours and garden-related events for every taste. So whether you want ideas for brightening your own garden or a place to revive your soul after winter, we've found some ideal places to go for inspiration.

Among the favorite garden places for urban dwellers to visit are the Baltimore Conservatory in Druid Hill Park and the Cylburn Arboretum, a 175-acre park in Northwest Baltimore. Both are the responsibility of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition to some wonderful plant displays, the two sites boast a full roster of events and activities.

The Baltimore Conservatory complex consists of the Palm House, the large glass 1880s building that's hard to miss on a drive through the park, and four greenhouses.

"We've been [renovating] the Palm House and have plans to add two new glass Victorian-style greenhouses," says William Stine, the city's chief horticulturalist. "Right now, the conservatory has three greenhouse displays with plants illustrating desert, Mediterranean and tropical climates. Our Spring Flower Display Show is up from April 15-30, and Sunday, April 16, is our open house and annual Easter egg hunt."

The conservatory's spring flower show will feature an exhibit on agronomist George Washington Carver, a cactus and succulent collection and tropical flora and fauna.

The Palm House is currently closed except for special events such as these; renovations are expected to be completed in 2001.

There are changes at the Cylburn Arboretum, too. Restoration and renovation are the order of the day, as Stine and his crew work to make some major changes to the displays.

"The Perennial Garden is being transformed to reflect a formal garden of the 1890s," Stine says. "We expect that to be done by September of this year. We're also restoring the Garden of the Senses for the physically challenged."

The arboretum lost nearly 30 large trees to the recent harsh weather, and restoration of the affected areas is also under way.

Two of the most popular events at the site are coming up later in the spring. The annual Market Day, featuring plants for sale and tours of the property and Cylburn Mansion, is May 13, and the Tulip Dig, where participants can unearth and carry away tulips, is May 20.

Another city favorite is Sherwood Gardens in Guilford, where more than 80,000 tulips bloom each year from late April through May. While the gardens boast more than tulips, there's no denying they're the biggest draw. Prime viewing season is usually the last week in April and the first week in May.

Famous for its outstanding topiary, Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton is one of the most distinctive gardens in the state.

Ladew formally opens its garden season this year on April 13. In addition to the famed topiary and formal gardens, there is a new, self-guided nature walk on the property. The walk takes visitors through old field, forest, wetland and stream habitats, and a butterfly meadow -- a garden designed to provide food for butterflies in their caterpillar and adult stages.

One of the favorite events at Ladew is the annual plant sale, scheduled this year on May 6. On a number of days throughout the year, visitors have a chance to enjoy the beauty of Ladew's gardens while attending social or cultural events on the property. My Lady's Manor Steeplechase, one of the area's major races, will be run there on April 15, and the annual concert season begins on June 11.

Ladew also features a Carriage Museum, with antique carriages on display, the historic Ladew Manor House and a cafe. So it's easy to make an entire day out of your visit there.

In Annapolis, the William Paca House and Garden invites visitors to tour its historic home and 2 acres of plantings. Formal gardens, a pond garden, a summerhouse and vegetable and wilderness gardens offer a variety of displays in a more residential-scale space. Now and through the next month visitors can see forsythia, daffodils, bluebells, periwinkle and tulips, with more blooms coming up each week. One of the favorite events at the site is the annual plant sale, scheduled this year on May 13.

One of the most diverse botanical collections can be found at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington. Set on 446 acres off New York Avenue, the arboretum boasts 15 different gardens and exhibits. There are collections of azaleas, hollies and magnolias, the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, the National Grove of State Trees, perennial collections, native plants, the National Herb Garden and the Washington Youth Garden.

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