Julie Brunelle stooped in the flower beds behind the Cylburn mansion Sunday, examining the ants as they worked their way inside peony blooms and helped them to open.
It reminded her of being with her grandmother, who cultivated the flowers at her home in Michigan before passing away recently. And so the visit to the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore with her family on Mother's Day brought the 39-year-old some solace.
"Coming to gardens this weekend has been very healing for my heart," Brunelle, of Baltimore, said. "I think it will probably become a tradition."
Across the arboretum's 207 acres, mothers and their appreciative offspring laid out picnic blankets or tried to walk off brunch as the robins and mockingbirds flapped around in the sun.
Cara Mikel arrived at the arboretum with her family early, after her daughters had made pancakes for breakfast and feted her with a hundred or so little cards. They always try to get out for a walk together on special days. The recent rain left them confined to the paths rather than the muddier trails around the back of the arboretum where they sometimes venture.
"The weather was gorgeous today," said Mikel, of Medfield.
Susan Clarke, 50, sat on a bench in the shade. Her eight children had joined to hire a photographer to take their pictures. Clarke, of East Baltimore, was waiting for the latecomers — the ones in the family with a reputation for never showing up on time. Her oldest, Victoria Johnson, was at her side.
"Sometimes I think she's my mother," Clarke said.
Doing pictures was Brittany Elliott's idea. The reason, the 27-year-old said, was simple: "Look at these beautiful women."
Johnson, though, was looking for some more practical attention from her children, who were spending the day with their father. She'd asked her son to clean out her car, a chore he'd been resisting.
"It's Mother's Day," she said. "If he doesn't do it now, he'll wait until Christmas."
Sisters Sandra Joshua and Kay Fraser came to the arboretum with their families after brunch at the Engineers Club in Mount Vernon. Fraser, of Towson, is an event planner. She knew about the arboretum through her work.
"It's just a tradition for us to get together," said Joshua, of Parkville — and somewhere to explore is a bonus.
Juan Echeverri and Myriam Tourneux, of Federal Hill, sat among the conifers with their daughter Emma, 5, and son Lucas, 1. Lucas munched his way through a box of raspberries, while Emma tackled a cookie almost as large as her head and explained how she gave her mom a bouquet of roses.
Echeverri said coming to the arboretum seemed a better idea than dealing with crowds in a busy restaurant. And a slow day, Tourneux said, is "a perfect thing."
Hannah Koenker, 38, had finished a picnic featuring cheese, hummus and bread with her husband Joshua Ratner and daughters Eleanor, 5, and Iris, 2. The girls had painted pictures of rainbows and "very pretty blobs" for Koenker, of Roland Park.
Their next stop?
"Don't tell them, but i-c-e-c-r-e-a-m," Koenker said.
Eleanor didn't react.
"That's why you've got to learn to spell," her dad said.