The annual Gardens Day in the Baltimore County seat includes a rare chance for a peek inside the walled landscaped plot known as Towson's Secret Garden.

Downtown Towson blooms with beauty

April 29, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Karolyn Seidl took the day off work yesterday and borrowed a wagon from a couple of kids in the neighborhood.

She pronounced her daughter, Elaine, the official "lugger," and the two headed to Towson, where pots and baskets of herbs and plants lined the streets.

A jazz band played on the courthouse steps, and jewelry sparkled in the sun. Workers in business suits sipped fruit smoothies in plastic goblets.

And, for a day, a town normally bustling with bail hearings and board meetings stopped to smell the flowers.

"It's just so nice to come here," said Seidl, as she surveyed the "phenomenal" flowers set out for Towson Gardens Day.

Last year, Seidl, the transportation coordinator for Villa Assumpta, the mother house for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, said she "nearly broke her arms" carrying home her treasures.

This year, she filled a plastic wagon with purplish-blue flowers.

For those who love their yard work, Seidl and others say, Towson Gardens Day is a must.

It provided an opportunity to hear planting tips from landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and Avery Harden, who created the palatial garden in front of the old courthouse.

And it was the one day of the year to tour Towson's Secret Garden.

The lavish, walled garden on Baltimore Avenue is owned by Robert M. Evans, whose publishing office is next to it.

But, honoring the agreement of the millionaire who built the office and garden in 1974, Evans allows the public to tour his private oasis, which includes a pool with two fountains and a gazebo.

It's also adorned with artfully arranged flowers, blooming trees and sculpted shrubs that look a little like tiered wedding cakes.

"It's lovely," said Joey Armitage, a retired school aide from New York City. "I had read about it. And ta-da - I had free time today and found a parking space. ...

"Hidden things are particularly nice, don't you think?"

A few blocks away, a crowd toured the courthouse garden with Oehme and Harden - and enjoyed their humor.

Asked about the garden plow that serves as a monument to the county's farmers, Harden said, "I suggested it as a joke, but they took me seriously."

Carol Oppenheimer, a Stevensville gardener, said she has long admired Oehme's work: "Before, this looked like a prison yard. Now, it's wonderful all year long."

Annual fun

It was difficult to walk more than a few steps without bumping into a toddler skipping along with a balloon or an office worker loaded down with flats of perennials and annuals.

Seidl said that's why a wagon and a daughter who will carry plants for you are so important.

When she plants her purchases, she said, someone will probably ask, "What's that?" To which she will answer: "Oh, that's my blue flower."

"I just plant what I think looks good," Seidl said.

The strategy apparently works, because her garden in Towson's Greenbriar neighborhood was one of 27 local plots recognized by the Towson Gardens Day committee during an awards ceremony yesterday.

Spring tradition

Started nearly 20 years ago by the Towson Development Corp., Towson Gardens Day was created to highlight the blooming gardens and landscaped spots in the area, said longtime organizer Les Graef.

But the event has also become a Baltimore County spring tradition - an excuse to buy a funnel cake, sip lemon juice through a peppermint stick and buy a potted geranium or new straw hat.

This year, the event was a prelude to the Towson Town Festival, which starts tomorrow along many of the same downtown Towson streets.

Normally, the two events are 1 1/2 weeks apart, but this year the festival was moved up so it wouldn't conflict with Mother's Day on May 8, said Suzan F. Doordan, executive director of Towson Business Association.

The two-day festival covering 10 city blocks will again feature performances by more than 30 musicians and the works of hundreds of crafts people and artists.

But, this year, the children's area, with pony rides and a rock-climbing wall, has been expanded, and a food court with tables and chairs will be added, Doordan said.

Phyllis Panopoulos, County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s executive assistant, and Ann Beegle, his chief of staff, said they look forward to both events each year.

Panopoulos said that Towson Gardens Day reminds her of Baltimore's Flower Mart in Mount Vernon.

Before her tour of the Secret Garden, Panopoulos had purchased half of a lemon with a peppermint stick planted in the center - a Southern-style treat that is always served at the Flower Mart.

"This time of year in Towson is glorious," she said.

"It's the start of such a happy season."

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