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Meandering through the Secret Gardens of Annapolis

Once a year, Hammond Harwood House opens the gates to the ­capital city’s private gardens — and invites you to look inside

They are there, hiding behind impossibly small doors tucked into the crowded summer streets of Annapolis. Or perhaps they appear as unexpected splashes of color coyly winking at strollers past a secluded courtyard.
    On the Secret Gardens of Annapolis Tour June 3 and 4, you can peek behind the doorways and wander deeply into hidden courtyards to discover the treasures of which their gardeners have spent the long winter months dreaming. Will you be able to spot the Japanese maple that began as a $29 end-of-season castoff in the back of the clearance section at Frank’s Nursery almost 30 years ago?
    Beth Dolezal, back as chair of the annual tour, has asked 16 gardeners with homes in the Historic Annapolis area to reveal their gardens to benefit Hammond-Harwood House, a pre-Revolutionary home museum preserving some of America’s best Colonial woodcarving, plasterwork and furniture.

“All these gardens are hidden,” says Beth Dolezal. “They are really secret … the private oases of the people that live there.”

    The self-guided walking tour goes from East Street to College Avenue, from Prince George to Hanover streets. “That,” says Dolezal, “makes it easy for older people to walk. It’s really easy. Some are right next door to each other. Others are maybe just a few houses apart.”
    In the past years, there have been public gardens, such as St. John’s College, on the tour. This June is a truly secret garden tour, as only private gardens will be shown.
    “People can see public gardens without paying,” Dolezal explains, “and they can include them if they want as they walk by. What they’re paying for is to see private gardens that they cannot see otherwise. All these gardens are either in the back of the house like mine or through a gate you cannot see through or around a fence. They are really hidden, they are really secret, they really are the private oases of the people that live there.”
    Dolezal’s hidden garden — not on this year’s tour because it’s out of range — is beautiful and lush. Bending the rules seems to work, for her gardening style, which she describes as a “onesie,” is not recommended. She likes a plant and, because she has a small garden, buys one and sticks it in the ground.

To enjoy the English style garden at Bob Bryant’s 201 Bed and Breakfast, you would normally have to book a room for the night. Visitors on this year’s Secret Gardens of Annapolis Tour will get to stroll the newly laid garden path and admire the koi pond. “The koi have been there maybe 25 years,” Bryant says.

    To enjoy the English-style garden at 201 Bed and Breakfast, you would normally have to treat yourself to a room for the night at the inn. Visitors on the tour will be able to stroll the new garden path that has just been laid, with the assistance of lots of aspirin, by Bob Bryant, one of the owners of 201.
    While you are there, take notice of the koi pond. “The koi have been there,” Bryant says, “maybe 25 years. They love to eat. But they’ve gotten a little picky. I’ll throw the fish food in and they’ll go, yeah, all right. I’ll throw French croissants in and Yum! Yum! Yum!”
    A hardy citrus, citrus trifoliata, came from seedlings grown in a pot by the gardener who used to take care of the Brice House Mansion.
    “It’s been there maybe 75 years,” Bryant estimated.
    The plant was given to the previous owner of 201 and parked in the shade. He moved it, and “It took off! Its little babies are making their way over to Eastport into friends’ gardens. The only issue I have is they have ferocious thorns.”
    Bryant and co-owner Graham Gardener do all of the garden preparation themselves. “Rototill out, throw in the peat moss; mix, mix, mix, add a little fertilizer. The soil is the important part.”
    In addition to the gardens hidden at the back of houses are gardens in private courtyards. John Koontz and his wife, Cynthia, are new on the tour this year. They, too, design and prepare their garden themselves. Their perennial garden starts with iris, black-eyed Susans, hostas and peonies. Annuals as well, such as dragon wing begonias and impatiens, add color in the more shaded areas. When he is not working on his garden, Koontz is busy taking people on guided tours of Colonial Annapolis. They are not walking tours, he points out, but use a small golf cart-like vehicle that can accommodate five passengers and a driver.
    Louise Hayman, returning this year, is working with a garden designer and doing a fair amount of praying as she prepares her garden for your eyes.
    The complete list of gardens on this year’s tour is … well, it is the Secret Garden Tour. You’ll have to buy a ticket to find out.

June 3 & 4, 10am-3pm. $35 day of at Hammond-Harwood House, 19 Maryland Ave.; $30 in advance:; 410-263-4683