The garden, owned by a nonprofit entity called Stratford Green, controlled by the Guilford Association (property owners in this neighborhood), owes its existence to its founder, John Walter Sherwood.
Sherwood’s garden evolved over a quarter-century. He and his wife, Mary Franklin Jones, bought a lot for homebuilding on Highfield Road in Guilford’s early days and later enlarged his property with adjacent land along Underwood Road.
First came the home. Sherwood’s residence was started in 1924 and was designed by architect Howard Sill. It is a reduced-scale copy of Westover, a manor house on a James River plantation near Williamsburg, Virginia.
Ann Giroux, Guilford’s historian, tells the story behind the garden.
“A portion of the garden, known as Stratford Green, was set aside as a private greenspace for the community in the original Olmsted Brothers plan in 1913,” she said of the landscape architects’ original conception.
“The Roland Park Co. had considered various options for that parcel but ultimately left it green,” she said.
Sherwood’s land purchases abutted Stratford Green. His merger of building lots grew to nearly seven acres of garden. In early 1927, when he enlarged his Guilford property holdings, The Sun reported he was the largest single private property owner in the neighborhood.
“In the early 1930s Sherwood began to plant tulips — Dutch tulip bulbs were kind of a new thing in garden design in the 1920s,” Giroux said. “Previously American and English gardeners used a cottage tulip, which is smaller.”
“May 1936 is considered to be the official start of Sherwood Gardens,” Giroux said. “The gardens were in the National Geographic twice. He liked having beds of one color. Queen of the Night tulips tulips were a favorite of his.
“After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in World War II, he switched back to American and English cottage tulips, but after the war he placed a massive order of Dutch bulbs — I think he was trying to get the bulb suppliers back on their feet after Germany invaded the Netherlands,” she said.
John W. Sherwood was born in 1871. His father was an Old Bay Line engineer who rose to become president of the steamboat service that connected Baltimore with Norfolk.
The younger Sherwood started his career as a Vacuum Oil Co. clerk.
“In 1898, he established a company that barreled oil that was then sold to his father’s steamship company,” said a Sun article. “He established a second company, Sherwood Brothers Inc., with his brother, Watson E. Sherwood.”
As families junked their old coal furnaces in the 1940s, Sherwood Brothers installed and serviced new heaters. He also established a chain of filling stations — along Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon, on Light Street in the Inner Harbor, in Irvington, Old Goucher, Highlandtown and on Keswick Road in Hampden.
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