After a two-year search for a house along Lake Roland Park, my husband and I peered through the dirty windows of a vacant house on a steep, wooded slope. Inside and out, everything needed attention.
A devoted runner, my husband wanted trails right outside the back door. I only wanted a nice garden to tend, but a decade of inattention had left no space that could be described as a garden.
In the backyard, my husband saw a mature woods that brought him peace and recharged his soul. I saw a wildness that was unsettling: knee-high stilt grass, runaway akebia vine matting the hill outside the front door, weeds that grew up and over the roof of the garage.
My husband knew he had to sell me on the house. We tramped around in the waist-deep undergrowth of briars, weeds and prickly vines that cascaded down the hill, and he promised me we could build a retaining wall and create a flat space for a garden.
A few years later, we are still trying to tame the chaos.
We have pulled down enormous vines and dug out bamboo and raspberry canes.
Perennials I carefully planted have rolled down the hill in storm runoff.
Deer have mowed down supposedly “deer resistant” flowers. We have been outsmarted by an old, nearly blind groundhog.
But I have the beginning of a garden. In the midst of the pandemic shutdown, I spent hours weeding one hillside and planting hundreds of tiny plugs of a native sedge. I leaned into the hillside on all fours because it is too steep to stand up. I prayed the plugs would not be washed away in a rainstorm.
I love gardens because they make me slow down, examine the world around me, and focus on a single activity of growing something beautiful, of imagining what the plant will become as it grows in its space.
Gardening brought calm when I was part of an effort to find a local buyer for The Baltimore Sun newspaper. With each hole I dug, and each wisp of sedge I planted, I kept wondering why I had decided to take on projects with unlikely chances of success. But each plant was an act of faith that gave me hope.
We found a buyer for The Sun, but the deal fell through. My faith came through. Not only has sedge quadrupled in size, filling in to become a strong patch that will hold the hillside together, but the effort to save local news has now blossomed into The Baltimore Banner.
I also continue to work on my garden. And as I work patiently and wait for plants to grow into a tranquil space, I visit other gardens that fill me with ideas and bring me joy.
Here are some of my favorites.
This garden, a half-hour or so drive from Baltimore, is perhaps the most magnificent garden in the area. With 22 acres of gardens, Ladew offers a myriad of different spaces, including a recently restored woodland garden and an iris garden. My favorite spot is the secluded yellow garden with a stream that runs through a shaded area.
Two hundred acres in Baltimore City of wooded trails and gardens set next to the Cylburn Mansion. Go first to the mansion garden, with at least 50 varieties of perennials and annuals, views of the Nathan’s garden and of ancient Japanese maple trees and magnolias.
In the middle of winter, explore a humid tropical greenhouse or the desert greenhouse filled with plants from around the world. The gardens are at Druid Hill Park.
The garden, next to the museum, has 33 works of art on three acres.
A tiny pocket garden at 812 S. Ann St., restored to include herbs that would have been planted during Colonial times for medicinal purposes, is located beside the historic house of the merchant and entrepreneur. Built in 1765, the house is the oldest surviving residence within the original city limits.
Started in 1999, it is now home to gardens with native species.
On your way to finding the graves of John Wilkes Booth, Enoch Pratt or Theodore McKeldin, note the numerous species of beautiful, old trees.
A garden next to the Guilford neighborhood with an unmatched display of tulips each spring.
These are pocket gardens scattered throughout the city where everything from vegetables to annuals are grown. Pop by the Exeter Gardens, at 103 Exeter Gardens, a community garden tucked away between Little Italy rowhouses. Or stop by the Mother’s Garden on the edge of Lake Clifton Park.