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Taking a look at Maryland's better homes and gardens


Private homes and gardens in Maryland and Virginia are being groomed to perfection before they open to the public next weekend. The 58th annual Maryland House & Garden Pilgrimage offers tours in five counties and Baltimore City from Saturday through May 6. Historic Garden Week in Virginia runs Saturday through April 29.

Green and white tour markers are a familiar sight on Maryland's byways in late April and early May. These markers point the way to some of the state's oldest and most beautiful homes and gardens, and this year will be no exception. The pilgrimage opens with two days on the Eastern Shore. Dorchester County is the setting for Saturday's tour, where most of the nine homes were built in the middle to late 1700s. An exception is Tudor Farms, a 6,000-acre private wildlife management and hunting preserve, home to the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, white-tailed deer and numerous songbirds. And for the first time, the pilgrimage offers an opportunity to go aboard the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester, the first skipjack built on the Eastern Shore in nearly 40 years.

The second day of the tour will be in Caroline County, where

attractions include a restored log cabin; Hazelwood, the home of former Gov. and Mrs. Harry Hughes; and a handsome plantation house overlooking the Choptank River.

St. Thomas Manor House, said to be one of the world's most beautiful examples of 18th-century architecture, can be seen on the Charles County tour April 29.

Rockland in Baltimore County will be featured April 30. There, you can visit a stable, barn, general store and tavern that were once a part of a mill community. All have been renovated and turned into charming homes. The buildings at Rockland were constructed in the early 19th century using local stone. Rockland Grist Mill, which dates from 1810, will also be on the tour.

Horse farms and fieldstone farmhouses that dot the rolling hills of Carroll County can be seen on the tour's only weekday outing, May 3. The president's house at Western Maryland College and townhouses in Uniontown will also be featured.

The final tour will showcase Baltimore's waterfront dwellings in Canton. Refurbished industrial buildings from the early 1900s in Canton Cove and Tindeco Wharf have become popular because of their harbor views and proximity to downtown.

Homes will be open, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $20 per tour or $5 for an individual house. Proceeds benefit restoration and preservation projects in Maryland. For information, call (410) 821-6933 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Virginia's 'Open House'

Billed as "America's Largest Open House," Historic Garden Week in Virginia is the oldest and largest event of its kind in the country. This year's event features 36 tours across the state with more than 250 individual sites, ranging from Robert E. Lee's boyhood plantation home to the modern glass home of basketball coach Charles "Lefty" Driesell.

Here's a sampling of some of the attractions: an evening gala, co-sponsored by Historic Richmond Foundation, featuring a Franklin Street walking tour highlighting the city's most fashionable 19th-century townhouses, carriage rides and a champagne reception; a candlelight tour of Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe; thoroughbred horse and cattle farms on the Orange-Rapidan tour; homes with waterfront views in Virginia's Tidewater region, including a Sunday cruise on the Virginia Beach tour; an exhibit of French treasures at an Italianate mansion in Petersburg, including pins worn by Marie -- Antoinette; and tours of the James River Plantations.

Block tickets range from $7 to $15 per tour; individual sites from $2 to $4. Refreshments are served on every tour and lunches by local church groups are also available. Historic Garden Week is sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Proceeds are used for restoration projects at historic properties. Guide books are available for $3. Call (804) 644-7776.

Leesburg blossoms

In conjunction with Historic Garden Week, the fifth annual Leesburg Flower & Garden Festival will be held Saturday and April 23 in Leesburg, Va. Four blocks of the town's historic district will be transformed into a botanical garden with custom-designed landscaping, fresh cut flowers, topiary, potted

plants and gardening equipment and supplies. There will be entertainment on the courthouse stage, guided walking tours, wine tasting, a garden art show and food. Children can enjoy a variety of activities, including a magic show.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. A donation of $2 for adults, $1 for ages 6 to 12, is requested. Call (703) 777-1262.

Hampton heritage

Heritage Day offers an opportunity to get acquainted with Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 23. The site includes a 1790 Georgian mansion, outbuildings, a cemetery, greenhouses, stables, ice house and slave quarters. Many of these buildings are usually closed to the public.

Heritage Day is held in conjunction with Earth Day. Among the attractions are hay rides, garden planting, tree care, antique farm equipment, bee keeping and exhibits on forests and green spaces. Admission is free. The mansion is at 535 Hampton Lane. Call (410) 962-0688.

Azalea extravaganza

The 42nd annual International Azalea Festival salutes Great Britain during its eight-day run April 23-30 in Norfolk, Va. A British auto show will feature vintage and current Jaguar and Rolls Royce models. Entertainment includes performances by the Hampshire Constabulary Band and Her Majesty's Royal Marines Band, and a Shakespearean theater troupe will demonstrate sword play.

An international celebration will take place at Norfolk's Botanical Garden, where visitors can enjoy more entertainment, food, cultural displays and products from NATO countries. Other festival highlights include a parade, gala ball, air show, sailing regatta, golf tournament and other events. Most of the events are free. Call (804) 622-2312.

Maple festival

The 48th annual Pennsylvania Maple Festival will be held Saturday and April 23 and April 28-30 in Festival Park in Meyersdale, Pa.

Most of the activities take place at Festival Park on Meyers Avenue, where you can visit a maple camp and see the entire syrup production, along with the old homestead of the Meyers family and other period buildings. Cloggers, fiddlers and bluegrass singers will perform throughout the day. There will also be a Grand Feature Parade, classic auto show, Queen's Ball, oldies dance, horse-pulling contest, quilt show and many other attractions. The Lions Club will be selling pancake-and-sausage dinners each day.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, free for 12 and under. Call (814) 634-0213.

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