Towson Gardens Day 2012

The house of R. Carlton Seitz at 502 Highland Ave., West Towson, has been named as the recipient of the 2012 Towson Azalea House award. The honor will be officially bestowed on Towson Gardens Day, May 3. (Photo by Frank Kaufmann / May 1, 2012)

The 26th annual Towson Gardens Day will be just plain fun, according to the Towson Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event Thursday, May 3.

The event in the Towson Courthouse area heralds the arrival of spring with plants and flowers, crafts, entertainment, food, lectures and a tour of the Courthouse Gardens.

But the real mission of Gardens Day is to encourage the greening and flowering of downtown Towson and its neighborhoods. To that end, the Gardens Day committee will honor those who have excelled this year during a noon awards ceremony on the County Courts building steps.

"Gardens and flowers and plants make such a difference for a town," said chamber Executive Director Nancy Hafford. "They make Towson a special place to enjoy and remember."

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The selection process often focuses on curb appeal.

"We accept suggestions from any interested parties before we start driving around Towson and the surrounding communities," said Bob Vaughan, who co-chairs the awards committee with his wife, Gwen.

They don't search for backyard gardens. Instead, they look for well-landscaped front yards that improve the streetscape of entire blocks and neighborhoods, he said..

In addition, the committee also give awards to businesses and other community-oriented organizations, for example, the Lutherville Lab School for its "Learning Garden."

"Although you cannot see this garden from York Road, a whole future generation is learning much about the planting and care of perennials," said Bob Vaughan.

"It seems to grow prettier each year," added his wife.

The azalea is Towson's official flower, and Gardens Day includes the awarding of the coveted Towson Azalea House award and a brass plaque for bragging rights. The honor goes to the owner of a property with an outstanding display of azaleas each year.

For 2012, the Gardens Day committee has selected 502 Highland Ave., West Towson, as the 2012 Towson Azalea House.

"A wide variety of colorful azaleas setoff by an immense dark evergreen in the front yard and a lush array of lavender azalea peeking through the wrought iron front fence," noted the committee report. "It's a subtle arrangement, not splashy, but the total picture is pleasing to the eye. "

But owner R. Carlton Seitz said he can't take the credit for his azaleas.

His late mother, Dorothy Sumner Cook Seitz, planted most of them in the 1950s, he said, noting she used bone meal as fertilizer .

"I do very little each year to maintain them; I just keep the weeds under control and add a little bit of cow poop," he said.

His mother, a graduate of what now is the Maryland Institute College of Art, came from New England stock, he said. One of her ancestors, Henry Cook, settled in Salem, Mass. on Oct. 28, 1638.

His father, Raymond worked in the family business, the Towson Independent Ice Company, which his dad's parents established in 1909.

Their old neighbor was librarian Helen Emig Lyness, he said. "When Helen and mother got together to talk flowers you could listen to them for half an hour and not understand a thing they said because they were using botanical names.

"Both were avid gardeners. Mother's style of gardening was what the Germans called 'Lustgardnerei' or pleasure gardening — where everything was 'higgledepiggly au natural' looking. But believe me, mother spent endless hours planning everything in her gardens."