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Towson sprouts flower fanatics for 21st celebration of greenery

The Baltimore Sun

A strolling bagpiper played beneath a canopy of clouds. Later, the Towson High School jazz ensemble contributed some brighter sounds, and the skies lightened, if only briefly.

"We bring the sun when we play," said D.J. Crenson, who plays tenor saxophone for the jazz group. "It's what we do."

At the 21st annual Towson Gardens Day yesterday, the weather seemed reflected in the music. The day was, for the most part, cooler and damper than many might have preferred, and the festival was perhaps not as crowded as in years past.

But not all of the diehard gardeners and the office workers looking for a midday break were deterred. And the event was enough of a spectacle to catch the eye of someone in town to take care of a little business.

"I was at the bank and I saw this," said Joyce Austin, picking through the organic herbs at one booth. She said she was looking for rosemary - and intended to place it in a recently departed friend's casket as a symbol of remembrance.

As in years past, streets in the heart of Towson were blocked off to allow vendors to set up shop. They sold crab cakes, sausages, smoothies and other treats from booths. Others spread pots of plants and flowers on the street. Some presided over tables covered with crafts.

Dorrie Wilfong, a member of the Gardens Day committee, said that when the Gardens Day event debuted more than two decades ago, Towson was the site of a lot of development and it was "very antiseptic-looking, not very beautiful, not very green."

"We started Gardens Day to encourage the greening and flowering of Towson," she said. "We started off with a very tiny, little fair. It was done on a Thursday so that it would be primarily for the people who lived and worked in downtown Towson."

By 9 a.m. yesterday, many vendors were setting up in anticipation of the official opening an hour later. At noon, an awards ceremony on the courthouse steps commended gardeners who excelled in creating and maintaining their gardens.

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, which sponsors Gardens Day, handed out 29 awards.

Gwen Vaughan, a member of the Gardens Day committee, said recognizing people with community awards is important because it might encourage neighbors to do the same thing. One year, the winner of the annual award for the house with the best azaleas was so proud that the award sat out on his porch for a whole year, Wilfong said.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. spoke at the ceremony, emphasizing the importance of the environment and the greening of Baltimore County.

A self-tour of a "secret garden," inside the walls behind a building on Baltimore Avenue, was available for $1, which the garden's owner said goes to the Gardens Day committee for use on projects in the Towson area.

But mostly, Gardens Day seemed to be an excuse to wander among the vendors and mingle with folks who share a common interest.

"We love it. I work in Towson, and we look forward to it," Pat Eckenrode said as she purchased funnel cake. "It was twice as crowded last year because the weather was so much nicer. The weather has dampened it a little this year, and I hope it holds out."

Many people strolled around the fair clutching umbrellas in their hands, hoping the drizzle didn't turn into a downpour.

"I brought my umbrella so it wouldn't rain. If I didn't have it, it would start pouring," said Dave Sheehan, a Towson resident, who won an award for his front lawn garden.

Elyssa Baxter, chairwoman of the Gardens Day committee, said she thought the turnout was good despite the weather.

"People are walking around, buying flowers and enjoying themselves," she said. "For the weather, it's a good turnout. This community looks forward to this."

One person had no problem at all with the conditions. Wolfgang Oehme is the landscape architect who designed the Towson Courthouse Gardens. He's been known to tend to public gardens in the middle of the night and host weeding parties on his birthday.

"The weather is great!" he said. "It's good for plants. They need cooler weather to get established."

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