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Garden variety; Naturals: As spring comes into bloom, so do garden tours and shows around the region. Here's a winter 'catalog' of travel temptations.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

By late next month, the air will finally begin to fill with the sweet scents of spring. As the breeze slowly warms, crocus, tulips and daffodils will sprout from softened ground, and red maples, dogwoods and forsythia will start to bud. Grass will begin its slow transformation to green. The birds that wintered quietly in their nests or traveled farther south will gradually reappear, first the fox sparrows, then the robins and eventually the bluebirds. They bring with them their bright colors splashed on a still-gray background and their light-hearted songs.

These signs of spring are celebrated in back yards and convention centers across the region. Here is a sampling of the season's garden shows, tours, lectures and displays.

VIRGINIA

Two popular flower and garden events here capture the beauty of nature and the brilliance of landscape design.

* The first, Maymont Foundation's annual Flower and Garden Show, will be held Feb. 18-21 in Richmond. One of the season's earliest shows, Maymont marks its 10th anniversary with a "Once Upon a Garden" theme, where 20 landscape designers will use greenery, flowers, fountains and trees to re-create scenes from tales such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Humpty Dumpty."

The show's 3 acres of indoor gardens will include a display by last year's "Best in Show" winner, Atlantic Plantscapes, who imaginatively combine color and texture. New to the lineup will be "Flowers After Hours" activities -- nightly garden-oriented events including a flower-arranging seminar and a children's scavenger hunt.

Two popular British garden experts are scheduled to make appearances. Marney Hall, the gold medalist from last year's Chelsea Flower Show in England and a natural habitat restorer, will create Maymont's Garden Invitational Exhibit -- a natural English garden. And Anna Pavord, a garden writer for Britain's Gardens Illustrated and Country Life magazines, will explore centuries of tulips from her new book "The Tulip."

The Maymont Flower and Garden Show will take place at the Richmond Centre, 400 E. Marshall St. Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 18-20; 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Feb. 21. Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 at the door; free for children under 12. Call 804-358-7166.

* One of the region's most expansive garden events is Historic Garden Week, highlighting more than 250 homes, gardens and historic landmarks across Virginia, April 17-24. This week of tours follows a path through James River plantations, country and suburban estates, farmhouses, beach houses and historic buildings.

The garden event traces its roots to a 1927 flower fair that raised more than $7,000 to restore and replenish the trees at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Capitalizing on that success, the first Historic Garden Week was launched two years later. Funds raised during the annual weeklong event have restored 36 gardens on historic properties around Virginia.

This year three dozen separate tours are scheduled, each highlighting at least five private homes and gardens.

Just outside Washington, the Fairfax Garden Club tour through McLean (April 23) highlights a garden crafted by a professional water-garden designer. April 18-19 are the dates for Leesburg Garden Club's tour through the Catoctin Rural Historic District, visiting properties dating to the 1700s.

Farther south, the Warrenton Garden Club's tours will take place April 21-22 and visit famous sites such as the mansion and stable of William "Extra Billy" Smith -- Civil War officer and two-term Virginia governor.

Restored historic buildings in rural Madison County will be toured April 17 and the countryside surrounding Charlottesville will be the focus of the Country Homes and Gardens tour April 19-20.

Along the eastern coast, Essex County is the newest addition to Historic Garden Week. It is one of the state's oldest areas, and five 18th- and 19th-century houses will be toured April 23.

Down at the shore, Eclipse, a fishing village near Suffolk, is the subject of a tour April 17, and Virginia Beach opens doors to five waterfront homes April 20 for its "From the River to the Bay" tour showcasing a home with a master gardener's landscape.

A comprehensive 200-page guide can be ordered by sending a $5 donation payable to Historic Garden Week, 12 E. Franklin St., Richmond, Va. 23219. Visit the Garden Week Web site at www. vagardenweek.org for limited information. Tickets: $10 to $20 depending on event; admission to any single home or garden costs $3 to $5; tickets can be purchased on tour days at each property or at designated information centers.

PENNSYLVANIA

Starting next month, Pennsylvania displays a spring wonderland, recognizing the influence of American Romantics on landscape design and relating the gardening process to that of animation in three shows.

* Since 1829, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has sponsored its annual garden show, which has become the largest single-destination event in the area. The Philadelphia Flower Show, March 7-14, welcomes more than 60 major exhibitors, who will transform 10 acres of the Philadelphia Convention Center into a blooming wonderland. This year's theme, "Design on Nature ... the Art of Gardening," recognizes turn-of-the-century garden designs, sculpture, architecture and statuary common among the American Romantics movement.

The central exhibit, "Art and the American Garden" by Stoney Bank Nursery of Glen Mills, Pa., highlights early-20th-century garden statuary and is complemented by a dozen micro-gardens displaying decorative landscape sculpture. The "Irreplaceable Places" exhibit showcases gardens inspired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation; gardens from the Rockefeller Mansion and Lyndhurst Estate also will be replicated.

Other flower-show features include 125 vendors selling bulbs, birdhouses, plants, tools, lighting and watering systems. "The Gardener's Backyard" will display the trendiest and latest in garden gadgets.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 8-12, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 7 and March 14, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 8. (Tip: More than 300,000 visitors are expected to attend the weeklong event. Crowds are thinnest weekday evenings from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) Admission: $18 weekends, $16 weekdays for adults, $8 any day for children 2 to 12 and free for children younger than 2. For information on hotel packages and to receive a Flower Show Week Bouquet Book, call 215-988-8800. For information, visit www. libertynet.org/~flowrsho/.

* Southwest of Philadelphia in the Brandywine Valley, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square offers two events that showcase its spring finery: "Welcome Spring" and the Easter display.

The "Welcome Spring" display, which continues through March 26, is mainly in three central greenhouses -- the Orangery, Exhibition Hall and the East Conservatory. Freesia and stock permeate the air in the Orangery, where South African bulbs sprout among foxgloves and Canterbury bells. In Exhibition Hall, tree ferns set amid a reflecting pool are the highlight.

This month, the East Conservatory is shaded by palm trees and tropical flowers, while walkways are canopied by golden acacia. Euphorbias and tulips bloom early and echiums -- spiky, pink-flowered stalks from the Canary Islands -- shoot up, growing as high as six feet. Cornflower-blue cinerarias blossom during "Welcome Spring" and, by late March, cymbidium orchids open.

Longwood's Easter display, March 27 to April 9, kicks spring into high gear with lilies, hydrangeas, marguerites, daisies and delphiniums sprouting through the Conservatory. Daily programs are planned for this event as well.

The creation of Pierre S. du Pont, Longwood Gardens encompasses 20 outdoor gardens, 20 indoor gardens within 4 acres of greenhouses, 11,000 types of plants and three fountain gardens spread throughout its 1,050 acres.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and until 6 p.m. from April to October. Admission: $12 for adults ($8 on Tuesdays), $6 for those 16 to 20, $2 for children ages 6 to 15 and free for children under 6. For information, call 610-388-1000 or visit www.longwoodgardens.org.

* On the other side of the state, the 1999 Spring and Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh combines the color and texture of tulips, narcissus, snapdragons and delphiniums to create popular animated characters. Its version of Bloomtown, "Springtime Animations" opens March 13 and continues through April 11. The exhibit will be dimly lighted with twinkling lights for "Twilight Evenings," which starts March 19 and continues through the exhibit's closing day.

More than 100 years old, Phipps Conservatory is the gift of industrialist turned philanthropist Henry Phipps. When it opened, the conservatory consisted of nine display houses with silvered domes and glass vaults housing exotic tropical plants from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Today, it has expanded to 13 display rooms and features orchids, ferns, a Japanese courtyard garden, bonsai, herbs and aquatic gardens.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; and until 9 p.m. March 19 through April 11; closed Mondays. Admission: $5 adults, $3.50 for students with ID and senior citizens over 60, $2 for children 2 to 12; free for children under 2 and Phipps members. Call 412-622-6914.

DELAWARE

Heading north on Interstate 95 will take you to the First State's spring events at Winterthur, Odessa and New Castle.

* For each month of the spring, a garden blooms at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Planted in 1902, the March Bank is the oldest of Winterthur's gardens and is filled with daffodils, crocus, squills, glory-of-the-snow and other perennials from February into April. The Quarry Garden -- one of Winterthur creator Henry Francis du Pont's most innovative -- blooms in a rainbow of primulas in May and June, and the Sycamore Area -- once a grazing ground for cows during the estate's dairy-farm days -- is home to Asian dogwoods, tree lilacs, Stewartias and oyama magnolias as well as plants with cherry-red and lavender blooms.

These gardens -- filling 60 of the 966 acres of Winterthur -- are the work of H. F. du Pont, whose family resided on the estate for four generations. Born in 1880, he developed a keen appreciation for nature while growing up amid Winterthur's rolling hills, streams, meadows and forests. He studied horticulture at Harvard and upon returning home began the landscaping and gardening that would lead to the public opening of the estate in 1951.

Winterthur doesn't just have a single tour or event planned, but a proliferation of garden programs throughout the spring. Guided tours of its gardens will be given March 27 through June 13 at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays, at 1:30 p.m. Sundays and at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every Wednesday in May.

Themed garden walks begin March 27-28 with the "March Bank Walk," emphasizing early spring bulbs such as snowdrops, chionodoxa, scilla, winter aconite, Adonis amurensis, snowflakes and crocus.

Flowers from Japan, China and Korea will be the focus of the "Asian Plant Walk" April 10-11.

The next weekend, plants native to northeastern America are highlighted along "The Native Plant Walk." Woodland wildflowers, Virginia bluebells and a variety of trillium are among the plants and flowers to be viewed April 17-18.

On Mother's Day, Winterthur celebrates with an "Azalea Walk." Focusing on the thousands of different kinds of azaleas found in 8 acres of garden, this walk highlights Kurume azaleas, which are native to Japan.

Admission: Each tour is $5 in addition to general admission of $8 for adults, $4 for children 5 to 11 and, free for children under 5. Call 302-888-4600.

* Garden designs of the 19th and 20th centuries will be the focus of Historic Houses of Odessa's "Take Thyme to See the Gardens" exhibition opening April 27 and continuing through Sept. 30. Once a busy shipping port, Odessa will showcase four historic houses and area gardens dating back to the 1700s and maintained by Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

On display will be objects and artifacts related to early gardening through the early 20th century. Outside, guided tours will be given of a Colonial revival garden and a working kitchen garden typical of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free with general admission of $8 for adults; $7 for groups, seniors and students; $3 for ages 5 to 11; and free for members and children age 4 and younger. Call 302-378-4069 or visit the Historic Houses of Odessa Web page at www.winterthur.org.

* New Castle's main garden event, "A Day in Old New Castle," turns 75 this year. A record 20 homes and 30 gardens will be on tour during the May 15 celebration, which will also feature Revolutionary War re-enactments and 18th-century lifestyle exhibits.

On the banks of the Delaware River, New Castle was the state's first capital and the home of three signers of the Declaration of Independence. On this day only, private homes open up for tours of rooms and gardens filled with peonies, Nandina, tulips, rhododendron and azalea, along with flowering trees such as dogwood, magnolia and viburnum.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $14 for adults, $7 for children 12 and younger; preschool children free. Call 302-328-2413.

MARYLAND

In April and May, two tours way outside the Beltway explore some of the state's unique public and private gardens.

* Maryland's 62nd annual House and Garden Pilgrimage will wind across the state from April 17 through May 12. Opening day is scheduled for Anne Arundel County, followed by Baltimore (April 23), Kent County (April 24), Worcester County (April 25), Baltimore County (May 5), Calvert County (May 8) and Carroll County (May 12). Each county tour includes at least 10 houses and gardens. Among the highlights are historic waterfront estates from 1658 in Calvert County, the 18th-century country house Hampton Hall in Baltimore County and houses built by German and Tidewater English settlers in Carroll County.

Tours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for each day are $20 per person and available at Pilgrimage Headquarters, 1105-A Providence Road, Towson, Md. 21286-1790, or at any house visited. A comprehensive events book will be available after March 15 by sending $2 to Pilgrimage Headquarters, 410-821-6933.

* The eighth annual "Beyond the Garden Gates" tour through Frederick City is a self-guided tour of private and public gardens May 29-30. More than 10 gardens are visited, and area landscapers and gardeners will be on site to answer questions. Carriage rides through the distinctive gardens of Mount Olivet Cemetery -- where Francis Scott Key is buried -- will be given for $2.

Hours: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets: $10 per person. Call 800-999-3613.

WEST VIRGINIA

The splendor of more than 40 gardens will be on view in West Virginia during three tours starting in late April.

* Seven 18th- and 19th-century homes open their doors -- and gardens -- for the 44th annual Tour of Historic Houses April 24-25 in Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Among the highlights: "Spring Hill," home to seven generations of the Harlan family, including Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and John Marshall Harlan II; and the 15-room "Brown-Shugart," built in 1883 with a ballroom and expansive porch. Gardens will be filled with daffodils, tulips, peonies, iris, lilac and bleeding heart.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under. A brochure will be available by the end of February; call the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Visitors Bureau at 304-264-8801 or visit www.travelwv.com.

* Later in the season, the Greater Parkersburg 11th annual Garden Tour will visit five gardens that show off imaginative landscape techniques designed around gazebos and pools. One garden has a Japanese influence, while at others benches and ponds nestle among displays of annuals, perennials, shrubs, roses, herbs and wildflowers.

Tickets for this tour, to be held June 6 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., are $4 in advance and $5 the day of the event. Profits from the event will benefit the restoration of the Blennerhassett Island period gardens. Call 304-863-8269.

* In Shepardstown, 30 gardens will be on view during the an- nual Back Alleys Tour June 19. Highlights include a boat race, garden scavenger hunt and garden planting for children, and afternoon tea and gardening lecture for adults.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for adults: house and garden tour, $6; lecture, $3; tea, $3; special prices for children. Brochures available from the Shepardstown Welcome Center by calling 304-876-2786.

WASHINGTON

On May 8, the nation's capital embraces spring with the 71st annual Georgetown Garden Tour. A dozen gardens will be on view during the self-guided walking tour, which includes stops at Dumbarton Oaks (extensive formal gardens with an Italian flavor), the Renwick Chapel (a historic Tudor nestled in Oak Hill cemetery) and Evermay Estate (a private home with multi-level gardens, reflecting pool and a beautiful view of the city).

The tour, sponsored by Georgetown Garden Tour and Georgetown Garden Club, is from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $15 on or before April 24, or $20 afterward (price includes tea and bus transportation for those who prefer not to walk); children under 12 free. Tickets available by mail from Georgetown Garden Tour, P.O. Box 3752, Washington, D.C., 20007-0252 or on the day of the event at any of the gardens. Call 301-656-2343 or 202-244-0381.

A BOUNTY OF EVENTS: TOURS, CLASSES, SALES

These garden events are also scheduled across the region.

Pennsylvania

* Bartram 300 Celebration: America's oldest botanical garden offers a year's worth of lectures, exhibits, plant sales and tours. Besides its affiliation with the Philadelphia Flower Show, Bartram Gardens has numerous spring events celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of its founder, John Bartram. Bartram Gardens are at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard in Philadelphia. Call 215-729-5281.

* 16th Annual Demuth Garden Tour: More than a dozen private gardens will be on display for this self-guided tour June 12-13 in Lancaster. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 12 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 13. Admission: $10 in advance; $12 day of tour. Call 717-299-9940.

Maryland

* Maryland Home & Garden Show: Exhibits include 20 gardens, interior design, flooring, millwork, indoor and outdoor furniture March 5-7 and March 12-14 at Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Hours: March 5, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; March 6, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; March 7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; March 12-13, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and March 14, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 410-863-1180.

* Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton offers workshops and lectures during its Spring Garden Series, running March through April. However, the gardens do not open to the public until April 15. May events include its annual plant sale (May 8) and a Mother's Day brunch (May 9). Call 410-557-9466.

* Thirteenth annual Towson Gardens Day: One hundred plant, flower, craft and food exhibitors and vendors. April 22 (rain date April 23) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Towson Court House Fountain Plaza, West Pennsylvania and Baltimore avenues. Free. Call 410-825-2211.

Virginia

* Capital Home and Garden Show: Five acres of remodeling, decorating and gardening exhibits, Feb. 26-28, at the Capital Expo Center, 4320 Chantilly Place Center, in Chantilly, Va. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 26-27, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 28. Admission: $8 adults, $2 children 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and younger. Call 800-274-6948.

* Colonial Williamsburg's 53rd Annual Garden Symposium: Speakers and gardeners discuss gardening basics with optional classes on flower arranging and tours of plantations. The four-day symposium, March 28-31, costs $250 a person. Call 800-603-0948.

Delaware

* Delaware Center for Horticulture's third annual City-Country Garden Tour: Visiting nine private gardens, the June 26 event is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and costs $20. Call 302-658-6262.

-- Randi Kest

Pub Date: 02/07/99

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