In Guilford, digging for tulip bulbs proves to be a bright idea

In the space of 21/2 hours at Sherwood Gardens on Saturday morning, the Ames family pulled some 267 tulip bulbs out of the ground, much to the delight of everyone, including the people who maintain the North Baltimore park.

"It seems like a great deal for them," a smiling Lauren Ames, 30, said of the annual Tulip Dig, where gardeners get to pull bulbs out of the ground at a showcase garden and replant them at their own homes. "They get people to do all of the work, pulling up the bulbs, and get 30 cents apiece for them."

There was a lot of upturned soil at the 6-acre garden that has long made Guilford one of Baltimore's most colorful communities in the spring. Organizers estimated there were between 70,000 and 80,000 bulbs waiting to be dug up; by the time the dig ended at 11 a.m., about three-quarters of the bulbs were on their way to new homes.

"I'm always thrilled," said Margaret Alton, a trustee of Stratford Green, the nonprofit that maintains the gardens, and manager of the dig in recent years. "The surprise is arriving at 6:30 and having people here that have already been here and are ready to pay, and wait until I get here ... to pay me. They come from Delaware, they come from Pennsylvania — you would be amazed. And they've been doing this for years. This has been going on for decades."

Aaron Schneiderman and his wife, Sarah Sette, have been coming "episodically" for about three decades. By the end of Saturday's dig, they had gathered some four dozen bulbs to replant around their home in the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood of Arcadia.

"We brought our puppy, and then we brought our children, and we'll be here in our dotage, as long as we're still in Baltimore," said Schneiderman, 56. "We're able to perpetuate the beauty of Sherwood Gardens in our own home."

Sitting on land that was once part of the estate of A.S. Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun, the gardens were first planted in the 1920s, with tulips imported from the Netherlands, and are the blooming legacy of John W. Sherwood, a Baltimore businessman, philanthropist and pioneer in the petroleum industry. A year after he died in 1965, the Guilford Association purchased several lots from his estate and took over responsibility for the gardens (which, although privately owned, are open to the public at no charge).

Every year, from about late March to early May, thousands of people come to Guilford to stroll through the gardens and enjoy the more than 30 tulip beds exhibiting a rainbow of colors. By the end of May, however, the blooming has largely stopped and it's time to prepare for next October's planting. Which is where the Tulip Dig comes in.

"I think it's marvelous that you encourage this, and that the bulbs are so inexpensive," said Katharyn Davies, 67, a native of Wales now living in Ednor Gardens who was here for a second year. Kneeling on the ground, trowel in hand, she was digging in Bed 12W, hoping to find some of the deep purple Copex tulips a sign said were planted there.

By the end of her visit, Davies said she hoped to have about two dozen bulbs to take home. "Last year, I walked away with more, and there were like a dozen that I never got into the ground. I'm being modest this time. I had a bad conscience about the ones that I didn't get in, and I don't want to give myself that again."

First-timer Sandra Davis, who lives in Southeast Baltimore, said she had come primarily to scout out the best digging spots for next year. She arrived at midmorning, when several of the most popular beds were already empty. "I'll be here at 7" next year, Davis said.

But the lure of all that dormant beauty proved irresistible; a half-hour later, she had gathered about a dozen bulbs and was on the lookout for more.

"You know, these are perennials, they'll come back every year," said Davis, 71, smiling at the thought. "It's been a very productive morning."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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