City aims to clip off funds for Guilford tulip display

Neighbors protest elimination of $23,000 for Sherwood Gardens

May 04, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

City dollars for Guilford's Sherwood Gardens, a sea of tall tulips that attracts thousands of visitors each spring, are on the budget-cutting block.

Saying they feel blindsided, leaders of the Guilford Association sent a letter to Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday protesting a looming cut of $23,000 in the city's Department of Recreation and Parks budget.

That sum -- modest in the agency's $26 million spending proposal -- has been the city's annual payment to help fund the North Baltimore tulip garden since the 1970s.

The well-known garden features 77,000 new tulip bulbs from the Netherlands each year, planted every fall in 36 beds that resemble an Impressionist painting when in bloom. The community raises about $70,000 in private funds each year, in addition to the city funding.

"We're in crisis mode," said Howard Friedel, a lawyer and president of the Guilford Association. "Our battle is with the recreation and parks department, not with the mayor. We don't mean to compete with education, police and social services."

But Kimberley A. Flowers, director of recreation and parks, said the tulip custom may be too expensive to sustain. She said she plans to meet with Guilford community leaders Monday to discuss the matter.

"I have to be as creative as I can and distribute resources as evenly as possible," Flowers said. "The funds would be redirected to support a city farm and garden educator program, which used to be fully funded by the state."

For Guilford garden committee members, the city's contribution -- though just a portion of the total cost -- is an important vote of confidence in their work.

"We have international visitors who come every year, and the unwalled garden is a beautiful thing to see," said Anne Hopkins, a longtime Guilford resident. "It's hard to put a price on the good will the city gets from this and the spiritual uplift for the benefit of all."

The neighborhood association owns the garden in the heart of one of the city's most upscale enclaves. A legal agreement with the city specifies that the garden be open to the public during spring, with the community having the responsibility to care for it.

Friedel warned that the city budget cut could mean that the same bulbs would stay in place for several years. That would hinder the neighborhood's summertime Adopt-a-Plot program, in which volunteers cultivate annuals such as zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers. Reusing the bulbs would also hurt the appearance of the tulips, which are not as crisp or uniform in subsequent years, he said.

"The beauty of the tulip garden is in the perfection, the purity of each patch," Friedel said.

Friedel said he and other Guilford residents recognize that because their community is well-off, it is awkward to argue for a piece of the city budget. "Maybe a well-maintained small park in Harlem Park or Lexington Terrace is more important. A sociologist will tell you that," he said.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said yesterday that a net loss in $5.4 million in state Open Space funds constrains the recreation and parks department more than many other city agencies.

"There's less to go around for parks, pools and recreation centers," he said. "Hopefully, we can come up with a solution to continue a great tradition, but people need to be mindful that city government has a huge budget crunch."

Second District City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young said yesterday that he is rooting for Sherwood Gardens. "I'd be opposed to [the cut], since the group that maintains the park pays for the bulk of the [garden] expenses," he said. "It's a small thing for the city to do."

Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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