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Betsy Ellinger's Towson yard is colorful menagerie

Resident's fertile imagination evident on Aigburth Road

By Loni Ingraham

8:57 AM EDT, August 21, 2013

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For Betsy Ellinger, home is where the heart is — and the gazing balls, four birdbaths, bird feeders, tin ducks and ducklings, wind chimes and, a butterfly bush that draws its quota of yellow, black and orange beauties.

But there's more — a lawn jockey, fluttering flags, assorted concrete or wooden rabbits and frogs, Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh, another bear with a less distinguished pedigree, and a burro wearing an Orioles cap.

"A lot of people stop in front of my house and say "Wow!" said Ellinger, who has lived in the same modest brick Cape Cod on Aigburth Road in Knollwood-Donnybrook for 43 years.

The other day a woman stopped and I thought she wanted directions," Ellinger said. "But she told me she goes by every day on her way to work at St. Joseph (Medical Center) and just wanted to tell me she loved my place."

Stephanie Parry, one of Ellinger's four grown children, recalls her days at Towson High School when students were surprised to learn she lived in the house with "the yard with all that stuff."

"All that stuff" was the multiplicity of lawn ornaments and decorations in the well-kept yard and, in season, the bright yellow black-eyed Susans, the profusion of pink, purple and fuscia-colored flowers, and the hanging baskets.

The inside of Ellinger's house, with its 100 houseplants and 40 small containers of Betta fish, is just as visually rich.

"I have a love for kids, flowers and animals — and it shows," Ellinger said.

And, the property doesn't retreat into the shadows at night.

"It lights up," Ellinger said.

There are battery-powered candles in the windows all year round and landscape lights next to flowers and lawn features, and in shrubs and hanging flower pots.

During the daytime, a closer look at the house could reveal several toddlers sitting inside the huge front bay window playing in the sunlight and watching the birds.

Ellinger, who has two grandchildren, has been a day care provider for more than 30 years.

She fell into it after she helped out at Pleasant Plains Elementary School and her daughter's teacher was impressed enough to ask Ellinger to take care of her own baby.

"I love little kids," she said. "I like to watch them grow and learn. It's fun."

Ten years ago, she installed garden windows which extend at least a foot outside the house and let in light from their glass roofs.

"My curtains do not shut," she said. "I like the outdoors. I like to be able to see. The day care parents love the way the windows make the house so light and open."

Decorated inside and out

Like the yard, the inside of her house is neat and tidy, but the walls are filled with artwork, including a charcoal portrait of a horse done by her grandmother, as well as a cow clock that moos on the hour "always when I'm on the phone," Ellinger said. The dog clock barks, a bird clock tweets and a cat clock meows.

The furniture surfaces sport everything from figurines and family photographs and antiques to a wooden bowl with a snowman painted on it and Lalique inherited from her aunt, "which is really not me," she said.

The sheer number of things can be explained by gifts, she said, noting they mount up with four children, now in their 30s and 40s, Mother's Days, Christmases, birthdays and 30 years of gifts from mothers of day care children.

The one bobble figure she purchased some time ago in the dollar store has inspired similar gifts. Now Ellinger has 10 bobbles sitting on the glass shelf of a large garden window. The heat from the sunshine streaming in the room keeps them bobbling and clicking away.

One of her sleek black cats deftly climbs onto the glass shelf of the other window that flanks the fireplace and curls up for a heat treatment. The cats follow the sun around the house as the day progresses, she said.

The cats she has had have all been rescues, she said, as is Crabcake, the small beagle mix with doleful eyes that is curled up in a dog bed beside her bed. "Nobody wanted him," she said.

He spent 10 years at animal rescue before she took him home with her two years ago. "We've been able to give him that," she said.

Daughter Stephanie said that Ellinger has twice the energy that she and her friends have, and devotes it to nurturing.

Daughter Parry said about her mother, "She's nonstop trying to do everything for everybody and everything else. Her happiness is derived from making other people happy."

Neighbor Sandi Kendall has known Ellinger for 30 years.

"Betsy is absolutely the best neighbor. She has the most beautiful flowers and she shares them with the whole neighborhood.

"Even the birds and the chipmunks and the squirrels love Betsy's yard."