Spring is in bloom - indoors, at least

Conservatory Flower Show offers beauty, tranquillity

April 09, 2007|BY A SUN REPORTER

Michael Bromery sat alone, engulfed in a forest of green, alternately playing a Japanese melody called "Esaka" on his acoustic guitar and self-made bamboo flute against the sound of mini-waterfalls.

"People come here to relax and for peace of mind," he said, referring to The Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Baltimore, which is hosting its annual Flower Show, a large display of brightly colored tulips and snow-white lilies, through Sunday.

There are innumerable reasons why people find pleasure at the conservatory, which was built nearly 120 years ago, as illustrated yesterday by individuals, couples and families who leisurely made their way past thousands of plants and flowers.

That was no surprise to Kate Blom, the conservatory's supervisor. "It's an important cultural center," she said. "It's the best deal in town - it's free and open to the public."

It also offered shelter yesterday from winter-like conditions, which forced visitors to wear not their Easter finest but parkas from L.L. Bean.

They quickly forgot the cold, though, as a kaleidoscope of colors and fragrances greeted them.

Larry Fishman is a frequent visitor, especially to the Orchid House, and he said workers at the conservatory are generous in providing advice on how to grow his own plants in his "postage stamp" yard in East Baltimore.

"I call it experimenting," he said. "I wonder, `What will happen if I plant this?'"

Although Fishman has had his share of success, it's nothing compared to the magic of Alice Hisley, an 82-year-old volunteer for the conservatory.

"She's a whiz with orchids," he said. "She's quite good at it."

Blom revealed unbridled enthusiasm for Hisley: "Alice gets things to bloom that never bloomed before."

Karl Fanz has been coming to the conservatory for 20 years. Yesterday was his third trip this year. He set up a tripod in the Palm House and painstakingly searched for the perfect angle before he began photographing.

"It's a great place, especially on a cold, nasty day, to shoot flowers," he said.

One plant has everyone's attention. It's the 8-foot Agave americana, more commonly known as the century plant, because it takes 60 to 70 years to bloom - then dies.

"I don't know exactly how old it is," Blom said, "but I hope I'm around to see it."

She said the conservatory would throw a party when the plant begins to bloom. "And when we have a party, it'll be a party," she added.

Blom has more than that in store for the conservatory. There are plans - only on the drawing board - to expand the compound to 6 acres from 1 1/2 acres over the next 10 years and to add new production houses, gardens and varieties of plants and flowers.

She said she does not know what the cost would be, but acknowledged it would be "lots."

Bromery, of Baltimore, stumbled across the conservatory by accident about a year ago as he was looking for bamboo for the flutes he makes. He said he's been returning every Sunday.

And Fanz encouraged parents to bring their children to the conservatory.

"Kids should experience it," he said. "It'll give them broader knowledge."

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