The urban oasis of Kensington rarely generates news. Even lifelong Baltimoreans might not realize that the tranquil community of 215 homes exists, hidden as it is beside Loudon Park Cemetery on the city-county line.
But the 80-year-old neighborhood's treasures were on full display yesterday during a walking tour of Kensington's lush gardens.
"This is Roland Park west, hon," said Walt Robinson, who has lived in Kensington for 44 years.
"It's like living in Mayberry," added his wife, Edith Robinson. "We all know one another."
For the second time in five years, the Kensington Improvement Association sponsored a walking tour yesterday of 16 privately owned gardens and one that the community maintains. Now the residents hope the tour will become an annual event. It seemed to foster bonds in a neighborhood where some have lived for decades and others have only recently moved in.
Darryl and Christie Green were one of few black families in Kensington when they moved there seven years ago. Though still predominantly white, Kensington now has more black and some Latino families. Darryl Green, 42, serves as president of the neighborhood association.
With its manicured lawns and sidewalks where children jump rope, play hopscotch and draw with chalk, the Greens said, Kensington is an ideal place to raise their daughters, Rebecca, 9, and Lillian, 5 months.
"When I take Rebecca into the city, she sees no front yards and asks: `Daddy, where do the kids play?'" said Darryl Green, who works for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, during yesterday's tour. "We're truly blessed. Everyone looks out for everybody here."
The afternoon began with a stroll along the abandoned Catonsville Short Line Railroad, where Edith Robinson and friends have cultivated a community garden for more than 15 years. Before the greenway was restored, Robinson said, trash and drug paraphernalia littered the vacant rail bed.
Kensington's array of home designs also stood out on the tour. There were fixer-up colonials, Tudors and hacienda-like stucco abodes with Spanish-tile roofs. The homes' lots, carved up from a 50-acre estate, were first sold in 1926.
Randy Hagar moved into his once-dilapidated fieldstone home three years ago. The house has since doubled in value, as Hagar, 49, refurbished its interior and landscaped its front and back.
He learned to perfect his techniques yesterday from two volunteers with the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center, who were on hand for questions.
"What's wrong with my tree?" Hagar asked the master gardeners, pointing to a young dogwood with brown, shriveled leaves.
"A dogwood needs to be in the shade - get it out of here," University of Maryland volunteer Penny Jenkins said of Hagar's sun-baked lawn.
Nancy Calk, whose garden was also on the tour, said she has the opposite problem: too much shade. But her periwinkle and violet-colored hydrangeas and delicate coral bells do bloom nicely under those conditions.
"It's a lot of work in the spring," said Calk, 74, who has lived with her husband, Bill, on Kensington's Baltimore County side for 48 years. "But once I get it cleaned up, then it's maintenance-free for the rest of summer."
Robinson's own garden, on the city side, is one of the tour's treasures. The yard has a giant Kwanzan cherry tree, climbing roses and hidden flower beds with garnet red vincas and purple Russian sage.
Only one-third of Kensington's homes lie within the city limits. A diagonal line forms the border with the county, like the edge of a pie slice, Robinson said. Baltimore paves the street to the curb, while the county leaves a concrete border. Other than that, Kensington is one community.
Both in their 70s, the Robinsons know they can't maintain the prize-winning Kensington Community Garden forever. Annual tours and spring cleanup days could inspire the next generation to participate, Edith Robinson said.
"We've seen the changes: I would just hope it's maintained with care and love," she said toward the end of the tour. "But I don't think I'll ever get too old to go out in that garden. Maybe they'll wheelbarrow me out."