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Maryland’s Three Ecosystems Thrive at Tawes Garden

Maryland in Miniature tucked behind Annapolis DNR building

     This Himalayan cedar, Deodora cedarosa, is the fifth largest tree of its kind in the state. It is so tall, to take a picture of the top you have to lean back, almost to a backbend. Even so, the top of the tree won’t be in the frame.
     Normally, to get this close to a tree of this size you would have to drive into the woods. Once there, you have to hike out, maybe even go camping. Don’t forget water, bug spray and checking for ticks on the way out. If you have small children or are in some way incapacitated, it becomes hard.
     But at the corner of Rowe Blvd. and Taylor Ave. in Annapolis, you can walk right up to the Himalayan cedar and also visit the three ecosystems of Maryland in a completely barrier-free, handicap-accessible, five-acre setting.
     The Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden is rooted in bringing handicapped people to nature and nature to them. In the early 1970s, Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland president Stevie Lyttle’s dream took root in the six-acre cinder lot — once used by the West Annapolis carnival — next to the new Tawes State Office Building.
     Lyttle’s idea evolved to a fully accessible Maryland in Miniature garden. A landscape architect created a master plan in 1975, and in May of 1977 the garden was dedicated in honor of avid gardener Helen Avalynne Tawes, wife of  J. Millard Tawes, governor from 1959 to 1967.
 
Come into the Garden
     Enter at the lower pond, a home for fish, turtles, frogs and ducks. Impressive fountains aerate both the lower and upper ponds. The sound of falling water drowns out the noise of nearby traffic, relaxing you as you walk into the mountainous region of western Maryland.
     In this forested area, sugar maples rise above you, and Christmas ferns blanket the ground at your feet. The leaves of quaking aspen shimmer on the limbs before they fall to the ground. 
     Wander along the path to the Eastern Shore, and you find yourself among the pine trees, sand dunes and cattails native to the state’s coastal areas.
     Cross a bridge into the streamside community, and you see bald cypress knees sticking out of the water. “Bald cypress lives in the water,” explains Bonnie Pavlak, president of the Friends of the Tawes Garden Society. “They’re in the middle of the pond, so they need oxygen.” Knees supply the oxygen.
     As well as being the only place you can experience all the bounty of Maryland in a barrier-free environment, the Tawes Garden offers educational programs for both adults and children. Activities listed in the garden’s newsletter, The Black Eyed Susan, include workshops for children on why animals have different colors, animal habitats and all about trees, for the low cost of $1 per child. 
     As the weather changes, so do programs at the garden. In the spring and fall, visitors are invited to Wednesday noontime concerts on the terrace.
Fall is also when Pavlak, who is a botanist, teaches tree identification. Get to know Deodora cedarosa and other trees in the garden in three classes, beginner on September 21 (1-3pm; $10), intermediate October 5 (10am-noon; $15) and advanced on October 10 (1-3pm; $15), all by reservation.
 
 
Part of the Tawes States Office Building, 580 Taylor Ave., the Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden is open daily dawn to dusk; leashed pets welcome. Gift shop 9am-3pm weekdays. G’s Project plays Sept. 20, Sparks & McCoy Sept. 27: dnr.Maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/southern/
tawesgarden.aspx.