IT WAS A CHANCE remark spoken the other day over lunch. Three of us were gabbing away at the Owl Bar in The Belvedere. Baltimore architect Walter Schamu said that this past Sunday was so beautiful that Greenway -- and Sherwood Gardens -- looked like a scene from a painting by Degas.
I took another spoon of bread pudding and considered that comparison. I too had been walking around the Guilford neighborhood. It was true. People were out and about, walking, driving, snooping, breathing in a deep gulp of a lush Baltimore spring afternoon. The setting, and the well-behaved people attired in their pastel-toned linens and cottons, almost could have been a scene from the 1880s.
It was a different picture at the Inner Harbor that same weekend. The promenades were filled with folks looking over the Whitbread sailboats. This scene was more casual; the dress less formal. Children darted in all directions for ice cream and sodas. It was all very cheerful, but I preferred the setting three miles north.
At Sherwood Gardens, I'd detected that certain reverence Baltimoreans observe when they approach the hallowed corner of Greenway and Stratford Road. They are on good behavior because this is a special place, a green and colorful few acres that you might visit once a year.
My family has reels of home movies my father shot of us here in the 1950s. I am sure other homes still have photos recalling an April afternoon here, with azalea and tulip beds providing violent purple and mauve backgrounds for the straw hats and spring toppers -- those three-quarter-length coats that provide just enough warmth for the coolish spring weather one often finds on a Sherwood Gardens outing.
It is a ritual to return here year after year, spring after spring. Each time, I give an unspoken word of thanks to the people in the Guilford Association who tax themselves and pay for the elaborate planting and maintenance of their special greensward.
The beds and lawns are always perfect, groomed and tidy. The trees and evergreens appear manicured, but not obnoxiously so. The whole setting still appears as it does in our 40-year-old home movies. And no landscape artist has decided to improve upon what is there with some jarring novel design. Sherwood Gardens reassuringly remains Sherwood Gardens.
I also compliment the welcoming attitude of the residents there. How many neighborhoods invite thousands of curious lookers, with no admission, nothing being sold and no hassles. It is quietly understood that one behaves here.
I also want to thank the owners of the stately 1920-vintage homes in this district. They maintain them in a first-rate way that must delight local painting contractors. You rarely notice a chip of paint missing. The adjacent lawns are as groomed as the garden itself. In an era of gated communities and security guards on the parapets, Guilford and Sherwood Gardens remain open and friendly.
A handful of Sundays ago my brother headed up I-95 at the crack of dawn. In Philadelphia, he paid $12 to park and $18 to attend the big flower show there. He came home disappointed. I couldn't help thinking to myself: If you had gone to Sherwood Gardens, the price would have been free, the show would have been better and you'd have probably run into half a dozen people you'd known since Eisenhower was in the White House.
Pub Date: 5/02/98