Family heritage in bloom for 2012 Towson Azalea House winner

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."

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."

There were probably 100 varieties of day lily in the yard in the 19502 and '60s, he said..

But Virginia Campbell, who helped found the Women's Club of Towson and the town's public library, deserves credit for the azaleas too, he said. She and her family lived in the house for 20 years before they moved out and the Seitz family moved in.

An avid gardener, Campbell was responsible for many of the azalea plantings, he said. But he was told that she lost interest in gardening after the death of a son in World War II.

Seitz himself grew some azaleas from cuttings in the backyard after he moved into the house in 1985.

His only problem with the azaleas has been snow falling off the roof and damaging them. "About 15 years go we had a very bad winter and we lost a couple," he said.

"I don't take the same interest in them that mother did, but I try to keep them going."

Selecting properties worthy of the title usually takes place the previous year, since azaleas can't be relied upon to be in full bloom before Gardens Day.

"A nice mix of colors always shows well," said Gwent Vaughn, "and because the different colors don't all bloom at the same time, the display lasts longer."

She has a hint for those who would like their own homes to be cited as a Towson Azalea House.

"Hedge clippers tend to ruin azaleas," she said. "And the nicest looking displays of azaleas are usually those that have been pruned the least."

Garden gems in and around Towson

In addition the 2012 Towson Azalea House award to R. Carlton Seitz at 502 Highland Ave., West Towson, the Towson Gardens Day Committee will extend the following Community Appreciation Awards during the noon ceremony on May 3 at the Towson Courthouse:

• GBMC Foundation for the Pink Garden near the Barman Cancer Center, gifted by the Roland Park Garden Club.

• Parlor and Wobbler, 406 E. Joppa Road, for a well-landscaped small office building.

• Greater Ruston Foundation for the small neighborhood park along Bellona Avenue near Jape Road.

• Clark Lingual of Lingual Realty for a well-landscaped small office building at 606 Providence Road near Jape Road.

• York Manor Association for its entryway off York Road, designed by Ben Grimm.

• Friends of the Towson Library for the Towson Library Garden (a $180 check will be presented toward the purchase of mountain laurel and red-twigged dogwoods for the coming year).

• Lutherville Lab Elementary for its Learning Garden, developed by the students with help from the Lutherville Garden Club (a $100 check for continued planting of perennials will be presented).

Also, Neighborhood Gardens of Merit that will be cited include:

• Fellowship Forest: Patricia and Peter Santori, 500 block Hickory Lane.

• Greenbrier: Elizabeth Dunn, 500 block Brook Road.

• Knollwood: Kim and Jonathan Bandell, 900 block Fairway Drive.

• Lutherville: Marie and David Frederick, 200 block Morris Avenue.

• Rodgers Forge: Gina Marie and James Fischer, 200 block Stanmore Road.

• Ruxton: Susan and Robert Aumiller, 300 block West Wind Road.

• Southland Hills: Patricia and David Jackson, 400 block Alabama Road.

• Stoneleigh: Jane and Brian Schaffer, 800 block Stoneleigh Road.

• West Towson: Carey and Thomas Mitchell, 800 block Chestnut Glen Garth.

• West Towson: Judy Wine, 500 block Charles Street Avenue.

• Wiltondale: Terry and Robert Grothmann, 500 block Wilton Road.

• York Manor: Ben Grimm, unit block Haddington Road.

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