Lots of things can spark horticultural inspiration, but there's nothing like visiting gardens to really get your creative juices going.
Luckily, here in the Mid-Atlantic we have public gardens of all stripes from which to draw ideas. Some have year-round interest. Others, like the William Paca Garden in the heart of historic Annapolis, are at their best early in the season.
"The garden is in full bloom in spring," says Molly Rideout, director of the Paca Garden. Columbine, fringe tree, rose campion, pot marigold, native azaleas and flowering dogwood all froth through the walled, 2-acre space. Ideas abound. There are themed parterres, geometrically planted vegetable patches, and a medicinal garden. Apple trees -- in fragrant bloom in late spring -- are pruned into a rustic railing. Additionally, May is the garden's annual plant sale. "We sell all kinds of unusual things," says Rideout.
The Paca Garden also has a pond, but the best place for aquacultural inspiration is Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown. Lilypons has acres of water gardens -- great visuals for the aspiring water gardener -- as well as all the supplies needed to create one.
"The best time to come is in June, July and August when the lilies and then the lotus are in bloom," says Margaret Koogle, president of Lilypons. "People can bring dogs if they want, and bring binoculars because there is wonderful birding."
Other less specialized gardens are beautiful throughout the seasons.
"It kind of depends on what you want to see," says Linda Eirhart, curator at Winterthur, the former Henry Francis du Pont estate near Wilmington. "Early March is snowdrops and winter aconite. Late March is a blue sea of glory of the snow. April is Virginia bluebells , primroses, quince, trilliums and daffodils. May is azaleas and broadleaf rhododendrons."
Late summer color includes summersweet, panicle hydrangeas and abelia. And there is fall color and bloom in winter with witch hazel. Additionally, Winterthur boasts The Enchanted Woods, a wonderland of stone fairy-houses, a labyrinth and more -- a super place for kids that also offers ideas for drawing children into the magic of gardening.
Nearby Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., famed for both its horticultural expertise and its beauty, is currently offering a "two-fer" ticket deal with Winterthur.
More locally, London Town Garden, a 23-acre park on South River in Edgewater, has several gardens devoted to specific seasons. The winter garden offers berries, branches and winter-blooming camellias. Its azalea and wildflower walk with lady's slipper orchid, bloodroot and other natives is best in spring.
Wheaton's Brookside Gardens has "Wings of Fancy," its fabulous summer-months-long butterfly show. Not far away, McCrillis Garden in Bethesda is a great summer shade garden with a pavilion and benches.
To see a wide variety of trees in their various seasons' garb visit Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore or Salisbury University Arboretum, which has a collection of Asian trees. Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton is particularly inspiring in fall when the trees begin to turn.
"You get the bright green of the topiaries, in contrast to the beautifully colored foliage behind it," says Ladew's Karen Babcock. "And the beginning of December is the best time to see the Berry Garden, which has Pyracantha, winterberry, white beautyberry and inkberry."
A great place to visit right now is the 140-year-old Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.
"It's like a like a tropical paradise," says chief horticulturist William Vondrasek.
1500 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton
www.mc-mncppc.org / parks / brookside
LADEW TOPIARY GARDENS
3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton
LONDON TOWN HOUSE & GARDEN
839 Londontown Road, Edgewater
LILYPONS WATER GARDENS
6800 Lilypons Road, Adamstown
201 E. State St., Kennett Square, Pa.
6910 Greentree Road, Bethesda
Druid Hill Park, Baltimore
WILLIAM PACA GARDEN
186 Prince George St., Annapolis
Plant sale May 13-14.
SALISBURY UNIVERSITY ARBORETUM
1101 Camden Ave., Salisbury
www.salisbury.edu / arboretum
Route 52 / Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Del.