Walk though Lynn Supp's garden on a breezy evening in May and you'll find flower-hopping bumblebees, flittering birds and a bevy of buds sprouting through the earth.
But much of the lush greenery and splashy perennial color that make for picture-perfect garden parties in late June and early July sleep through the first nascent weeks of the spring season.
"It's just starting that magical thing that happens when everything begins to go from dead to it's a jungle," says Supp, a master gardener who spends nearly all her free time in 10 separate gardens on a half-acre in Hampstead. "I hate how a lot of it looks this time of year. I really need to rake the gardens out but you just can't, because if you get one cold spell everything will fizzle."
Long before the flowers begin to bloom and their yards begin to resemble a Monet painting, master gardeners spend hours preparing the land and planning their seasonal masterpieces.
There's the composting and cutting back, the raking and repotting, the bulb planting and the edging. There are seeds to choose from catalogs and from the baskets full of packets she has scattered through her home. There are annuals to buy and flowers to feed.
Supp tries to plan her gardens so that something blooms almost every week of the growing season, from the chartreuse-flowered spurge beneath a bush of yellow Japanese roses to the Virginia bluebells in her shady Native American wildflowers garden and the spiky buds of the alliums in the circle garden at the center of Supp's backyard.
"To me, it is about visualizing it first, putting it in, but then coming back and adjusting things until they come out just right," says Supp, 49, who spends Monday through Friday at work as a materials selection specialist with Baltimore County Public Libraries.
On a whim, she'll occasionally move plants around her garden. "Sometimes I just look at something blooming here and something blooming there, and I think those two colors look so good together. In 10 minutes, the shovel comes out and away it goes."
Supp also plans her gardens with an eye toward attracting a variety of wildlife: Hummingbirds like the trumpet vine, robins nest in the mock orange tree beside the house every year and squirrels scatter seeds throughout her gardens, planting what she calls "volunteer flowers" that grow without a moment of effort on her part.
At their prime, Supp's gardens include 14 trellises of brightly colored clematis and several towering hybrid hibiscuses. There's the red-flowered, 8-foot-tall Lord Baltimore, the demurely pink-petaled Lady Baltimore and the fire-engine red Blaze Starr that grows a good bit taller than Baltimore's famed leggy stripper for whom it's named.
"I have to keep her away from Lord Baltimore because Lady Baltimore gets jealous," Supp jokes.
Eight years ago, when Supp moved from Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood to a nearly 100-year-old turreted home in Hampstead, she brought with her as much of her garden as she could in containers.
Pressed for time, Supp simply dug a trench along an access road that serves as her driveway and tossed in all her plants. These days, she refers to the former trench -- now a natural border of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses between Supp's property and a neighboring vacant lot -- as the Mother Garden "because it was the mother of all the other gardens."
Now one of Carroll County's 80 active master gardeners, Supp traces her gardening roots to her pre-kindergarten days, when she romped through the undeveloped woods and countryside of Ohio, where her father worked as an engineer with the Ohio Turnpike. She planted her first garden at age 3, filling it with sunflowers, morning glory and zinnias.
When her family moved back to her great-grandfather's home and one-tenth of an acre back yard in the Penn Lucy neighborhood of Baltimore, Supp and her father took trips to Valley View Farm "when going out York Road meant going out into the country" to pick up such novelties as chocolate- and pineapple-flavored mint plants.
"Even when I lived in apartments with almost no grounds, I'd always have pots on a balcony and a million houseplants with everything you can imagine," she says. "My kitchen windows were always covered in herbs and tomatoes and everything else I could get to grow."
Her Hampstead vegetable garden includes all the ingredients for homemade salsa -- bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and hot peppers -- as well as basil for pesto, rhubarb for her mother's homemade pie and a shrub of catnip for Cricket, the black cat who often watches from an upstairs windowsill as Supp gardens.
She spent about $8,000 in eight years on her gardens and goes through six pairs of gardening gloves a year. She takes a two-week gardening vacation each year to tidy up, plant seeds and visit public gardens in Maryland and Virginia for new ideas and inspiration.
"She's very dedicated and extremely knowledgeable -- a real asset to the program," says Lisa Spence, master gardener coordinator and horticulture consultant with the Carroll County Extension Service. Started in the 1970s, Carroll was home to the first master gardener program in the state. "She has outstanding perennials, but she's not just using color to paint. She's also using foliage to paint."