Tradition blooms at Flower Mart

Crowds turn out for greenery, grub, good time at 90th festival, which continues to brighten downtown's Mount Vernon

May 05, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

City Councilman Robert Curran released a flock of white doves in the opening ceremony - one of the few new things at Baltimore's 90th Flower Mart yesterday.

The spring fair is known for old-fashioned touches. Straw hats, maypole dances, horse-drawn carriages and lemon sticks all hark back to 1911, when it was founded by the avant-garde Women's Civic League.

Now, close to a century later, it has evolved into a kaleidoscope of ages and races, a potent mix for drawing children out of schools and adults out of workplaces.

"I love flowers and sun and food in the heart of the city over a long lunch break," said Crystal Jones, who was wearing scrubs as she sat near a sea of red tulips. She walked over with a colleague from the Maryland General Hospital orthopedics department.

Sandy Pagnotti, who works nearby, said, "It makes Mount Vernon feel alive and exciting. ... Such a nice energy."

Kurt L. Schmoke, the former mayor and now dean of Howard University School of Law in Washington, said the rite of spring helps Baltimoreans see their city anew. "This is one of the great spaces in urban America," he told the throng.

Beaming, he noted that this was where he learned his head was too big to wear top hats.

The current mayor, Sheila Dixon, was there, too, greeting visitors.

Another new feature was an "urban stream valley" exhibit in the Parks & People Foundation booth on the cobblestones at the base of the Washington Monument. Portrayed by a grove of young trees in containers, along with barrels of rainwater and photographic exhibits of environmental projects, the valley demonstrated ways residents can keep the city green.

The foundation offered fairgoers a chance to buy a young tree for $20 -viburnums and maples were on display - to be planted in a city school yard or vacant lot.

Sally Michel, chairwoman of the foundation, said it intended to expand the mission of the Flower Mart beyond the celebration of city living.

"You have this rich charm here over the years," Michel said. "But the inclusion of urban forests and greening expands Flower Mart."

Carol Karcher Purcell, Flower Mart's executive director, said 64 volunteers help stage the two-day event, which concludes at 7 p.m. today.

She estimated more than 140 vendors are taking part, bringing more unusual merchandise than in the past, such as linen tablecloths from southern France, antiques from Chicago and flowers from Philadelphia. Ceramics, jewelery and crafts filled in the offerings.

It takes about $90,000 of privately raised funds to stage the fair, she said, and 30 city agencies help.

"This is a celebration of Baltimore City, where you see your neighbor and enjoy the pearls of our architecture," Purcell said.

Music was provided by a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School jazz ensemble and Peabody Concervatory students.

The atmosphere made for an easy place to run into old high school friends. John Stansfield, who attended Franklin High School in Reisterstown, cheerfully greeted a fellow alumnus from 25 years ago: "You look great. I'm fatter, grayer, older."

While a Gilman School singing group performed onstage, several special-education students from a school in Northwest Baltimore ate their lunch at a table.

"We bring our students here every year," said Liam Gilbert, their teacher at George W.F. McMechen School. "By subway or MTA bus."

Gilbert Sandler, a Baltimore author and radio essayist who is in his 80s, said the sameness of Flower Mart is a big part of its appeal.

"It's always what it has been and we keep doing it ... because we love not to change as a city," said Sandler, who will give a short talk at the authors' tent at the fair today.

The Sun reported on the first Flower Mart in 1911, saying "The fragrance from the flower market will fill the city."

That much can still be said. The market's flower displays still dominate the scene, with a profusion of petunias and snapdragons, gerbera daisies and other varieties blooming in abundance.

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