Conditions are right for a bout of 'landscape fever"

The Baltimore Sun

The weather is warm without being scorching. The breezes are benign. And the weekend has an extra 24 hours.

These are ideal conditions for an outbreak of "landscape fever," an affliction that sweeps across the region during Memorial Day weekend.

Clad in garden gloves, wearing hats, their skin slicked with sunscreen, the afflicted will be outdoors rearranging the terrain, planting, trimming, laying down decorative stones.

Bill and Sandy Fritz, for example, will be pulling up old stones and putting down a new flagstone path at their southern Pennsylvania home. This project has been under discussion for "about four years," and chances are good it will come to fruition this weekend, she said.

"My husband called the other day to make sure I ordered the stone," said Fritz, who as office manager for Butler Stone orders stone for a living. Lately, the demand for local flagstone and for cut stone, such as Pennsylvania bluestone, has been brisk, she said, as customers take advantage of the stretch of good weather to pave portions of the great outdoors.

Laying stone, like painting, requires preparation and planning, she said. You can't just wake up on Saturday morning and decide to build a patio.

The stones have to be ordered several days in advance. Stones are heavy, and it is a good idea to have a truck, not the family sedan, haul them to your home, she said.

Then there is the all-important groundwork, digging a base that is 4 to 6 inches deep. "If it is too shallow, the stones will crack," Fritz said. The base has to be relatively level and slanting away from your house so rainwater won't pond. The base is compacted and covered with stone dust, and only then, she said, are the stones set in place.

Usually, building a path would take longer than three days, but because she and her husband are replacing stones in an existing path, the base has already been prepared.

"We will get it finished by Monday," she predicted, "unless it rains."

Memorial Day weekend also offers an opportunity to minister to the lawn, said James Miller, proprietor of Bowen's Farm Supply in Annapolis. He told me that if tradition holds, his family business will be overrun this weekend with landscape warriors buying tools, mulch and even grass seed.

While most of the serious grass planting was done in the fall, it is still not too late to put iron sulfate products on the lawn to perk it up, he said. It is also a good time to attack the ever troublesome bare spots.

"You can still grow grass if you irrigate it," said Miller, adding that his grass seed of choice is a fescue.

Miller, who has been in the garden-supply business for 34 years, said there is a cycle to landscape fever. It starts on Easter weekend, he said. On Mother's Day, blooming plants fly out the door, and on Father's Day, tools sell.

"They will buy Dad a new trimmer because they have seen him out in the yard, fussing with the old one," Miller said.

By July, when the heat and humidity set in, the major outdoor activity becomes lawn mowing, he said.

One side effect of landscape fever is traffic congestion near the spots selling garden supplies.

In West Baltimore today, so many herb lovers are expected to descend on Leakin Park for the 20th Herb Festival that cars will be banned from the park. The preferred plant-carrying vehicle is a wagon.

In Glen Burnie, Beverly Pullen, manager at AA County Farm Lawn and Garden Center, said parking spaces are prized on weekends in the store's lot. Bales of straw are a popular item, she said, because gardeners residing in Baltimore, where fire codes prohibit storing straw, squeeze their vehicles up to the store's loading dock to snag a few bales.

In Cockeysville, so many gardeners maneuver in and out of the parking lot of Valley View Farms that management hires off-duty county policemen to direct traffic on weekends.

Some are drawn by a sense of mission, said Carrie Engel, Valley View's retail greenhouse manager.

"If they have a project, they get what they want and get out," she said.

Others, Engel said, are answering a less- defined urge.

"They want a little color in their yards, they are not exactly sure what, so they take their time looking," she added.

But all are responding to the tick of nature's clock and to the surge of springtime optimism.

"The soil is good and warm, the roots are going to take hold," said Engel, excitement rising in her voice. "It is prime time."

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