The Garden Club of Olde Annapolis Towne wanders through the city on May Day, seeking floral glory

Taking time to stop and judge the flowers

May 02, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

On the first of May, the Garden Club of Olde Annapolis Towne always springs into action.

In a quaint rite that creates a colorful effect, the women's club holds a friendly competition among downtown dwellers and merchants, who display eye-catching flower baskets outside their front doors. At least 200 get into the spirit, many festooning their arrangements with bright ribbons that blow in the breeze.

Yesterday was the 52nd annual day of judgment.

"Just like life, everyone's a critic," said club member Saundra Irvine. "We try to be thoughtful."

There's no first prize in the May basket contest. The creators of the best arrangements received simple green invitations to a tea party Friday hosted by the club - an elegant affair featuring silver, festive dress and a lemonade recipe dating back a century or two. Judges leave invitations in the winning baskets.

After gathering at a residence on Duke of Gloucester Street, 25 club members and guest judges dispersed in teams of three, fanning out into the historic district and nearby Murray Hill.

As they walked, other women's garden clubs admired the array of baskets - some prepared by florists, others by amateurs. The Four Rivers Garden Club of Severna Park lends a hand to those lacking green thumbs by selling fresh flower baskets by City Dock on April 30.

"It's fun to see your [garden] flowers appear on people's doors," said Susan Steele, the club president.

More than a few overflowed with fragrant lilacs, others with garden-grown tulips or snapdragons. One basket outside a gallery on State Circle was a painter's palette, ornamented with Gerber daisies.

"I like the baskets that were made from a garden, not by a florist," Judy Smith of the Severn River Garden Club said. "You know someone put their heart and soul in it."

For real estate agent Alex Tower Sears, 42, the occasion was a chance to walk on the street where she grew up, Maryland Avenue, in the company of her mother, Barbara Stowe Tower, and a friend, Michele Deckman. The trio were assigned as judges on the same panel.

On patrol, they stopped by the Naval Academy's front gates. They pronounced a few displays outside Maryland Avenue shops "adorable." They noted with pleasure the blue door background for a vibrant bouquet with splashes of delphinium outside the Donahue law firm on West Street.

"This gives the city a hometown spirit," Tower, 71, said. "It's a town thing, a seasonal expression that speaks to the beauty of the day."

Ann Marie Fox, a docent at Hammond-Harwood House, said she created the house's award-winning basket using Lenten roses from its garden.

"It took a couple hours," she said, smiling at the invitation she received.

The Naval Academy's flower baskets - two in violet and pink - dangling over an old cannon did not quite make the tea party cut.

By the end of their route, about 10 invitations were left.

Holding the competition and hosting the tea party a few days later is about all the club does - its "sole purpose," Tower said.

All children who make a basket receive a lollipop, she added.

Said Tower's daughter, long grown up, "It's my favorite day of the year."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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