When it comes to flowers, most Baltimoreans are probably familiar with the ring of "black-eyed Susans" placed around the neck of the winning horse of the Preakness Stakes. (Viking poms, a member of the chrysanthemum family, actually fill in for the June-blooming Susans.)
But less than a mile from the Pimlico Race Course, the Cylburn Arboretum offers visitors the chance to experience authentic plant and animal life from around Maryland.
Nearly 2,000 people are expected to visit the arboretum during its 48th annual Market Day this weekend.
"This is the only day of the year the public is allowed in the greenhouses," said Patricia Foster, executive director of the nonprofit Cylburn Arboretum Association, which assists Baltimore City in preserving Cylburn's grounds and buildings and provides educational programming. The arboretum, which is the city's largest public garden, contains more than 150 acres of woodlands and over 50 acres of cultivated gardens.
The greenhouses, which were built by the architectural firm that constructed buildings for the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., house a variety of plants, many of which will be sold during Market Day, which features a preview sale Friday and the main sale Saturday. The monies raised support the arboretum.
This year, Market Day falls on the same weekend as the popular FlowerMart held in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood.
"That is a little bit of competition," said Foster, past president of the Baltimore City Master Gardeners. "Weather is always a huge factor. If it's hot, water becomes an issue —for people and for plants."
Rain or shine, Market Day is a chance for those interested in expanding their knowledge of plants, flowers, trees, herbs, and other flora that grow in Maryland's soils to make purchases and talk to horticultural experts.
"Hanging baskets are big sellers, especially for Mother's Day," said Scott Ritchie, greenhouse supervisor for the Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks, which owns the arboretum's greenhouses. The greenhouses also grow plants that decorate City Hall and the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens in Druid Hill Park.
Market Day plants for sale include sweet potato vines, salvias, begonias, lantana, petunias and "lots of coleus," said Ritchie.
New for sale this year is Musa basjoo, a hardy banana plant first cultivated in China. "You can get a 20-inch plant with 10-inch leaves in a season," said Ritchie. Also making its debut this year is a new variety of petunia that sports pink flowers with white edges.
While many of the plants are grown on site by the Cylburn Arboretum Association, Baltimore City Recreation & Parks and the Baltimore City Master Gardeners, others come from garden clubs, specialty growers and nonprofits. Some of this year's Market Day vendors include the Cactus and Succulent Society of Maryland, Putnam Hill Nursery of Forest Hill, and the Mount Washington Garden Club.
In addition to plants, attendees can buy "garden art and garden-related crafts," said Foster. "We try to keep it all a garden theme."
'Cute and quaint'
The 207-acre Cylburn Arboretum originated as the private estate of Quaker businessman Jesse Tyson, who bought land north of Baltimore along the Jones Falls to build a summer home. Tyson started construction of the Victorian Renaissance Revival Cylburn Mansion in 1863. The mansion was designed by Baltimore City Hall architect George Aloysius Frederick, with rock from Tyson's quarry in the Bare Hills section of Baltimore County.
In 2015, the Cylburn Arboretum Association was approached by Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, of the 41st District, to see if it was interested in submitting a bond bill for the fiscal 2017 state budget for renovations to the mansion's Carriage House, said Foster.
Rebuilt in 1913 after a fire, the Carriage House originally stored both cars and horses harnessed to mowers. Since 2007, the Carriage House has been home to the Cylburn Nature Museum, which displays the Baltimore Bird Club's collection of birds native to Maryland. The Carriage House also houses the Cylburn Nature Museum.
"The museum is cute and quaint, but we really need to bring it into the 21st century," said Foster.
During the 2016 legislative session, the state awarded the Cylburn Arboretum Association $150,000 to do phase one renovations to stabilize the building and conduct an environmental study. "We can go back to the state [for additional funding] every year," said Foster.
Foster estimated that the entire renovation project would cost $2.4 million. In addition to the state monies, $200,000 has been bequeathed to the Cylburn Arboretum Association for renovations to the museum, Foster said. The association is also investigating agencies that support historic preservation, Foster said.
"Now that we have this endorsement from the state, over the course of the next couple of years the commitment of $150,000 will point a pathway for us to work on the project until it is completed," said Kenneth Montague Jr., president of the Baltimore City Master Gardeners, who helped Foster lobby for the renovation funds.
"Cylburn itself is already a tremendous asset for plants and for enjoying the outdoors," said Montague, a former delegate from District 43 and ex-secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. "The Carriage House renovations would be a real benefit for the whole city."
Montague said that construction of a planned handicapped trail will make the arboretum more of a draw for all populations. "We'd like to make plants and amenities more accessible to seniors," he said.
When it comes to the finer points of gardening, Montague admitted he was a bit of a late bloomer. After spending "tons of money" on plants that ultimately died, Montague earned his master gardener certification in 2014.
"My whole growing technique is better," said Montague, who now raises kale, spinach, Swiss chard, roses, hostas and ferns in his Waverly backyard.
"I like to germinate plants, then give them away," Montague said. "I'll be buying plants at Market Day."
The 48th annual Market Day at Cylburn Arboretum — Preview sale: Friday, May 6, 4:30- 7:30 p.m., $20, $25 nonmembers. Main event: Saturday, May 7, 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. Free. Premium parking, $10. For more information, go to http://cylburn.org.