Ladew, Longwood, Brookside, Winterthur -- standout gardens familiar to many Marylanders. But those shouldn't be the only botanical destinations on your map.
There are other gardens -- less well-known but just as impressive -- all within a two-hour drive of Baltimore.
No better time than now to explore them.
What's so significant about these almost-secret gardens? Diversity. No two are alike. There's an outdoor sculpture garden and a natural habitat with indigenous plants. Wildflower gardens and woodland trails, along with formal gardens accompanied by historic houses -- even one with an archaeological dig.
We have geography and climate to thank for much of this diversity. The region's different climactic zones deliver different species and varieties, even different blooming times.
As Karen Babcock, co-chair of the Maryland Public Garden Consortium, puts it: "We're just so varied."
To celebrate the region's rich botanical bounty, what follows is a guide to 10 lesser-known gardens worth checking out. If you visit in the next few weeks, you will see roses and irises, day lilies and coral bells, daisies and dahlias, hydrangeas and even a few lingering azaleas -- not to mention an outburst of annuals.
Talk to Maryland horticulture experts and they'll ooh and aah over Adkins Arboretum. Yet it's untapped terrain to most of the public.
Tucked away in a rural pocket of the Eastern Shore, 25 miles east of the Bay Bridge, the 400-acre preserve and educational center is dedicated to promoting appreciation and conservation of the region's indigenous plants.
There are four miles of handicapped-accessible trails through native meadows, gardens and woodlands enlivened this time of year with such flora as devil's walking-stick, Indian pipe, pink lady-slipper, spotted wintergreen and elderberry. (The trails are also open to bicycles and leashed pets.) Not to be missed: the native perennial garden with its display of homegrown shrubs, grasses, trees and flowers.
Adkins, popular with birders, offers year-round workshops on everything from controlling invasive pests to gardening for butterflies to building a backyard habitat. There's also terrific stuff for kids as young as age 3 -- canoe trips, puppet shows and scavenger hunts. As if that weren't enough, the arboretum also functions as an art space. Through July 24, sculptures by Howard and Mary McCoy will be on display.
Adkins Arboretum, 12610 Eveland Road, P.O. Box 100, Ridgely, MD 21660
* Grounds are open daily 9a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitor's center hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, from April until October. Free admission.
Nancy and Ron Walz have spent almost three decades transforming what once was a Western Maryland cow pasture into a series of enchanting gardens that serve as a great workshop for the ordinary gardener.
There's an ellipse garden, a children's garden, a cutting garden, a berry garden and a cottage garden -- among others.
The gardens, located in Middletown, are at peak from June to July and offer a hands-on how-to on such topics as: How to build a thyme walk, how to construct a pergola and how to stack plantings for maximum curb appeal. Some interesting old buildings, salvaged from other sites, dot the former dairy farm, which also serves as a retail nursery.
Surreybrooke has received a couple of noteworthy mentions lately. Last month, Briggs & Stratton selected it as one of the "Top Ten Lawns in the East," and HGTV highlighted the children's garden recently on the program A Gardener's Diary. Coming June 21, "Music in the Garden," a musical event beginning at 6 p.m.
Surreybrooke, 8537 Hollow Road, Middletown, MD 21769
* Open daily through July 1, 9a.m. to 6 p.m. After that, open Wednesday through Saturday 10a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1p.m. to 5 p.m.
St. John's Botanicals
It's quirky and probably not for everyone, but, if you're interested in homeopathy and herbal medicine, you might be interested in this all-organic 10-acre garden in Bowie.
Open by appointment only, co-owner Sydney Vallentyne has spent the last 16 years developing the grounds, a bit out of control from the look of it. But the entertaining Vallentyne is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to which herbs can fix which ills. (Peppermint is used to settle the stomach, for example, while rosemary is used in everything from cold medicines to hair rinses.)
St. John's offers classes on herbs and making and decorating herbal baskets, wreaths and garlands. It also sells spices, essential oils, herbs and nutritional supplements through an online store.
How did this "magical oasis," as its Web site grandly calls it, come to be named?
"It's the name of my oldest son, John," quips Vallentyne, his orange-haired mother. "He was not a saint. It's a joke."
St. John's Botanicals, P.O. Box 100, Bowie, MD 20719
* Open by appointment only.
The Read House and Gardens