What was an unsightly tangle of overgrown grass and weeds has been transformed into a peaceful urban garden off busy Spa Road in Annapolis.
But this garden isn't just for the eyes. It's a garden for all the senses. The blind can feel the wind blowing through tall grass and smell the fragrant bayberry and magnolia plants. People in wheelchairs can navigate extra-wide pathways and dig their hands into the soil to plant flowers in elevated plots.
Funded for the state's millennium celebration, the MaryLandscapes garden that opened yesterday at the Arc of Anne Arundel County is one of 37 across the state specially cultivated with native plants and flowers. The plantings require little watering and fertilizer, so they generate less harmful runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
College students, group-home residents and other volunteers planted more than 1,000 plants and flowers in a final spring planting yesterday under drippy skies.
Louise Hayman, executive director for the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000, unveiled the first MaryLandscapes sign, which details the environmental benefits of the native plantings. Similar signs will be posted at the other MaryLandscapes gardens.
"This is certainly one of the brightest stars in the whole MaryLandscapes constellation," Hayman said.
State officials singled out the garden at the nonprofit Arc, which provides services to mentally and developmentally disabled individuals, because of its accessibility.
Kate Rollason, executive director of the Arc of Anne Arundel County, said she's wanted to have a "sensory garden" at the association for several years, since she heard about one done by the Maryland School for the Blind. She described the project as "a source of pleasure for the senses, mind and spirit of the entire community."
Mel Wilkins, a retired manager with Lockheed Martin, designed the garden on short notice last July. His daughter, Laurie Scible, a human resources manager at the Arc, asked her father if he could do a "quick" garden design using only native plants just days before the grant deadline.
"We learned a lot about native plants that weekend on the Internet," said Wilkins, 60, of Crofton.
His proposal won a $6,700 state grant from the Maryland 2000 Commission. In all, the commission received 84 garden designs and awarded a total of $120,000 in grants to county governments, schools, churches and non-profit organizations to plant gardens.
All of the projects must be planted by November and must be maintained for at least 10 years.
"I was retired -- a totally bored, type-A personality going bananas," said Wilkins, explaining his involvement. A self-described "home gardener," Wilkins shepherded the project to completion, seeking donations from local businesses along the way and overseeing the volunteer efforts.
He estimates the value of in-kind contributions and cash donations at $70,000. Major contributors include Earth Scapes, which built the garden's pathways, and the TKF Foundation, an Annapolis environmental group.
The garden surrounds the Arc building and features 25 minigardens, sponsored by individuals and businesses. The gardens have names such as Berry Patch, Butterfly Station, Wildflower Meadow and Salute to Maryland -- the last a mass of black-eyed Susans, the state flower. Arc clients built and sponsored five box gardens, which are elevated so that wheelchair users can tend to them.
The garden also has a gazebo, wishing well, benches and a swing and is adjacent to Annapolis' Spa Creek Bike Trail.
"The word 'garden' is a misnomer. It's a minipark," said Kathleen Flahive, Arc's director of family services.
While digging, yesterday, Kevin Sommer, of Sommer's Lawn and Landscaping of Crofton, marveled at the transformation. Sommer, whose firm donated labor and materials, said before the garden, the lot was a "tangled mess."
"It was hard to envision," he said, "getting from that point to this point."