Properties showcase native plants, topiary, sculpture and history
The warmer months are a great time of year to visit public gardens in Maryland. Any of these green oases – with ornamental, heirloom or native plants, topiary, outdoor sculpture and historical roots – can easily be the colorful centerpiece for a Maryland getaway.
Whether you are an avid gardener, birdwatcher, appreciator of art – or just looking to enjoy nature, stretch your legs, and walk your dog – our public gardens are an inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors and celebrate the seasons.
In addition to self-directed visits, you can also become familiar with some of the state's gardens by taking the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage, started in 1930, is a series of tours at architecturally significant properties in Maryland that take place in April and May.
Here are brief descriptions for a sampling of not-to-miss gardens across Maryland:
Washington County Museum of Fine Art, Hagerstown (Washington County) – Art in Bloom is an annual museum exhibit in which local garden clubs and other organizations use floral arrangements to interpret paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. The museum is located in Hagerstown's City Park, "America's second most beautiful municipal natural park." (Central Park in New York is number one.)
Brookside Gardens, Wheaton (Montgomery County) An azalea garden, rose garden, children's garden, formal garden, fragrance garden, and Japanese-style garden, all surrounded by a "Heart-Smart Trail," are part of this 50-acre collection of public gardens. The property – part of Wheaton Regional Park – also has two conservatories and a horticultural reference library in its visitor center.
Museum Garden, Accoceek Foundation at Piscataway Park (Prince George's County) – Used for educational programs, workshops and performances, this garden provides a perspective on farming techniques and foodways of Europe, Africa, and North and South America. It has modern and heirloom herbs, flowers, and vegetables. The foundation also manages the National Colonial Farm.
McCrillis Gardens, Bethesda (Montgomery County) – Donated to the Maryland-National Park Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1978 by William and Virginia McCrillis and managed by Brookside Gardens, McCrillis is known for its stellar shade gardens. The site has a pavilion and benches is home to the Brookside Garden School of Botanical Art and Illustration.
Cylburn Arboretum, Baltimore – In 1954, the city established Cylburn Wildflower Preserve and Garden Center on the site of a successful 19th-century businessman's summer home. The 207-acre property, with its post-Civil War mansion and expanding collection of trees, was renamed in 1982. Volunteers have designed three miles of trails and various gardens to create a center for environmental education and horticulture. The annual Market Day, featuring plants and flowers for sale, seminars, arts and crafts, and a range of family activities, is the second Saturday in May.
Ladew Topiary Gardens, Monkton (Harford County) – Harvey S. Ladew (1887-1976), who established the topiary gardens here, was, according to the British magazine Tatler, "a gardner, sporting art patron and good companion." It seems only fitting, then, that a life-sized foxhunt scene – one of two-dozen garden rooms on his former 250-acre property – is arguably the most recognizable topiary forms in the region. For more insights on this and other masterpieces, Ladew's In the Garden series and spring lectures offer a variety of gardening-related talks.
London Town House and Gardens, Edgewater (Anne Arundel County) – Overlooking the South River, London Town was a 17th-century tobacco port, and today, only about a quarter of the town's original 100 acres remain. Within the historic area are the Colonial Kitchen Garden, African-American Foodways Garden and Richard Hill Medicinal Garden, which include herbs, heirloom flowers and vegetables, fruit trees and various crops. London Town also has the Woodland, Ornamental and Environmental gardens.
William Paca House and Garden, Annapolis (Anne Arundel County) – Paca, a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed this garden when he built his house in the 1760s. Research and excavations during the 1960s and 1970s led to its restoration. The property, complete with multi-tiered terraces that showcase 18th-century horticulture, is a National Historic Landmark, and guided tours of the house are available.
Annmarie Garden Sculpture Park and Art Center, Solomons (Calvert County) – Art intersects nature at this Southern Maryland destination. The sculpture garden has a quarter-mile pathway winding through a collection of museum-quality sculpture – some of it on loan from the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Annmarie also has more than 500 hybrid azaleas. While you're here, be sure to inquire about the classes and exhibitions offered by the arts center.
Historic St. Mary's City (St. Mary's County) – Site of Maryland's first settlement (1634), St. Mary's is considered one of the best-preserved colonial archaeology locations in North America. The one-time street pattern serves as a walking path among gardens that showcase plants brought by English colonists, plants cultivated by American Indians, and native plants. Don't miss Godiah Spray Plantation Garden, a comprehensive kitchen garden that has 17th-century food crops and herbs, or St. John's Site Museum, a native-plant arboretum with a 3.5-mile walking trail.
Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood (St. Mary's County) – The garden at this tidewater manor (circa 1710) located on the banks of the Patuxent River was designed in 1910 in the form of an 18th-century garden. It includes vegetable and herb gardens, fruit and nut trees, and an array of flowering plants – all typical of a colonial garden.
Adkins Arboretum, Tuckahoe State Park (Caroline County) – This 400-acre garden on the Eastern Shore has the Delmarva region's largest collection of native plants: 600 species of shrubs, trees, wildflowers and grasses. Visitors can walk along five miles of pathways through woods, meadows, streams, wetlands and gardens.
Salisbury University Arboretum and Sculpture Collection, Salisbury (Wicomico County) – This 145-acre campus has more than 2,000 species of plants in a variety of gardens. The university began collecting plants in 1985 and three years later became a national arboretum. A sculpture collection started in 1994 complements the gardens. Pieces range from the Beaux Arts style of the early 1900s to more recent figurative works.
Virginia Gent Decker Arboretum, Chestertown (Kent County) – Located at Washington College, the arboretum was modeled after George Washington's property at Mount Vernon. The 104-acre campus has more than 700 trees that represent 90-plus species. (Trees are labeled.) Brochures for self-guided tours are available at Decker Laboratory and Miller Library.