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Baltimore's Flower Mart turns over a new leaf; Mount Vernon: Both plants and traditions flourished at the reinvigorated event held midweek.


About three minutes into Wednesday's Flower Mart, I knew that Baltimore had turned a happy corner. We'd seamlessly reinvented one of the city's cherished traditions.

I felt in fact that the 2000 Flower Mart was the best I'd ever attended.

There is no explaining why certain civic happenings are held in such collective esteem, venerated year after year. But I'll give it a try.

Even in its shabby editions -- and there were many anemic Flower Marts in the 1990s -- it still drew a respectable crowd and put a Maytime smile on its participants' faces. And even when I thought I'd seen one too many of these things, I still slipped away to Mount Vernon Place -- if only to get away from the boss.

This year, what delighted me -- a gardener who likes flowers -- was the internal improvement of the mart. Each booth overflowed with color, with plants, with botanical offerings from the lowly petunia to the exotic orchid. It was a day when you could be a patriotic Marylander and buy a black-eyed Susan or a variety of bearded iris that I can't pronounce.

One floral arranger had huge metal baskets placed the classical balustrade in the park square between the Peabody and the Walters Art Gallery. His pots of color were outsized, outlandish and just what this brilliant day required.

It was a day to celebrate the wisdom of the city government in the 1960s, when it declared Mount Vernon Place Baltimore's first historic preservation district. What a stroke of wisdom it was to safeguard the history and beauty of this lovely square. And, on this one day in May, the front doors of old houses and institutions carried big wreaths.

Some of the old buildings were open -- and lines of children waited to gain entrance -- not a bad thing for a school child from the suburbs to see how people lived in 1870 Baltimore.

Some genius had the presence of mind to have the base of the Washington Monument ringed with 40 stands from Baltimore's parochial schools -- Shrine of the Little Flower, Catholic High School, St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, St. Michael's Overlea, to name a few that I recall. (I'll admit that I was in such a good mood I failed to take good notes.)

"We had Saint Everybodys," said Fred Bierer, the event's president, who grew up in Reservoir Hill and now lives in the Valley Heights section of Baltimore County.

These schools booths, staffed by enthusiastic volunteers, were a year 2000 substitute for the women's clubs and associations that traditionally had these spots. But with the gradual decline of these clubs -- with so many women in the work force -- the Flower Mart, long the province of the Women's Civic League -- was threatened.

The mart was taken over by the right group, the people who wanted to see a Baltimore tradition flourish. It was a day to cut class, disappear from the desk or skip a dental appointment -- and enjoy Baltimore's blessed spring.

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