The garden Schaefer dedicated to his mother

The former mayor's do-it-now spirit is badly needed in Clifton Park's Mothers' Garden

May 02, 2011|Susan Reimer

If the gruff and grumpy William Donald Schaefer, buried last week, was tender-hearted about anything, it would have been his mother and flowers.

The Baltimore mayor and the Maryland governor lived almost his entire life on Edgewood Street with his mother, where he grew up watching her care for her garden and for her African violets.

He continued to live there after her death in 1983, rising early on Saturday mornings to weed the gardens she left behind, and he planted new roses in an effort to encourage his neighbors to fix up their gardens, too.

In 1984, Mayor Schaefer, in his usual "do it now" fashion, rounded up the people he needed to refurbish the Mothers' Garden in a corner of Clifton Park, and on Mother's Day he dedicated it to the memory of Tululu Irene Schaefer and "all devoted mothers of Baltimore."

The garden had been planted in 1926 on the site of an old sand and gravel quarry at the corner of Harford Road and Erdman Avenue and was filled with 15,000 old-fashioned plants, flowers, trees and shrubs — just the kind you might have found in your grandmother's garden years ago.

It was intended to be a garden of remembrance and a place for "young mothers and for aged mothers who wish to spend their quiet hours over needles or in meditation," the president of the park board said at the time.

There was a stone pavilion on the rise and flower beds swept down each side of the hill to tree-shaded paths. A stone and timber pergola was covered with climbing roses, and a lily pond, spanned by a stone Japanese bridge, was filled with goldfish.

More than 6,000 people attended the park's opening. At it's dedication two years later, 50 little girls dressed in diaphanous costumes danced to the accompaniment of an orchestra.

"It was a garden created when labor was cheap and when it no longer was, the garden suffered," The Sun reported in 1984. But Mr. Schaefer took charge, and the restoration began. He had the city pay for a gardener charged only with the care of the Mothers' Garden, and the Mayfield Improvement Association paid boys out of its treasury to pick up trash in the garden.

Money is tight again, and the Mothers' Garden in that corner of Clifton Park is overgrown with weeds that have choked out all but a handful of stubborn irises and a few mud-splattered tulips.

Litter is everywhere, and yellow police tape is knotted in the shrubs. Stone benches are broken, and the fruit trees are gnarled and badly in need of pruning. There are broken branches piled near the pavilion, and a pile of hardened asphalt sits near the entrance. The top of one of the stone pillars there has been toppled.

It is safe to say the famous impatience of Mr. Schaefer would flare mightily at the state of the garden he dedicated to his beloved mother.

I imagine that he would storm into the office of Greg Bayor, the head of the city's department of parks and recreation, and demand that he pull the weeds himself if necessary.

"I find the condition of the Mothers' Garden an incredible disappointment," said Mr. Bayor, who was hired by Mr. Schaefer 35 years ago to manage Clifton Park. The Mothers' Garden was part of that job.

"It was a rose garden then," he said. "I don't imagine there are any roses left now."

When the economy shrinks, it appears, trees and flowers are the first to be squeezed out of any budget.

"All we can do is mow," said Mr. Bayor. "We've stopped planting flowers everywhere in the city."

Indeed, this was the last season for the tulips in front of City Hall. Vegetables will be planted in the future and the produce harvested to feed the homeless.

"We would like to find someone to take the Mothers' Garden over," said Mr. Bayor, who oversees an adopt-a-garden program in the city. "A garden center or a garden club. Perhaps some kind of public-private partnership."

The Mothers' Garden was rescued once by a can-do politician who loved both his mother and her flowers. Its wretched condition might have reduced that man to tears today. I fear it will require as much heart as money to rescue it again.

"Mothers and flowers to man are given," reads the inscription on the marker placed in 1928, "to bridge the span twixt earth and heaven."

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays. Her email is

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