Put In the Flowers, Take Out the Trash.
Story & Photos by Sonia Linebaugh
1. Get inspired on the House and Garden Pilgrimage, where history of the past meets history in the making. Theres no better way to look at your own homesteads possibilities than to visit some of the most fascinating homes in the region.
As forsythias yellow fades to green, the sap rises in peony, iris and homeowner. Its time to shake off the bareness of winter and make way for the possibilities of spring. To help focus our attention, we talked to homeowners who are greeting spring with special attention. Theyll soon have 800 or 900 visitors coming through their doors during the 66th annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage. Follow their lead to make the most of spring vigor and optimism.
Each year, the tour visits different sections of Maryland and its counties.
In Southern Anne Arundel Countys leg of the Maryland Pilgrimage this year, 11 houses are open for visitors on Saturday, May 3. Anchored by Historic London Town and Gardens, the tour mates the history of the recently reconstructed Lord Mayors tenement with the soaring contemporary art studio at Waterfields, the colonial farmhouse Forever Fields and eight others.
In St. Marys County, the simplicity of Historic St. Marys City is countered by the exuberant informal gardens of Jubilee Farm and the contemporary open spaces and home theater of Villa Porto on Saturday, May 10.
2. Start by bringing spring indoors with plenty of cut flowers. In the lull between the bursts of forsythia and spiraea and the generosity of peonies, bring in bouquets from florist, market house and grocer.
|From the porch, Mick Blackistones home, Forever Fields, shows its 19th-century roots, as does one of several fireplaces.
Cindy and Mick Blackistone of Forever Fields in Fairhaven think flowers are just right for the house tour. My feeling is, well put cut flowers around but otherwise it wont be any different than any other May 4, he says.
Today, the Blackistones new, old, white farmhouse with red roof is a clean, comfortable mix of history and convenience. Though the kitchen is contemporary and efficient, the rest of the house reveals in traces and hints the facts and fictions of its 160-year history. The six-foot doorways, the molding style, the stairwell that leads from front door and turns back to a landing above the front door all reveal the homes mid-19th century Tidewater style.
The shelves built into archways in the living room, the hand-worked dining room ceiling and the chandelier over the table reveal the bonds of friendship between previous and present owners. The shelves were built 40 years ago by Blackistones father-in-law, Frank Thames. The chandelier was a gift from his mother-in-law Catherine to her friend Peggy Eversfield, owner of the house for more than 50 years. Together the two women created the rough, old-fashioned look of the dining room ceiling.
The back porch reveals a story of wooden shingles nailed a century ago over rough wooden siding thats insulated with corncobs. The window sill is a single piece of thick, misshapen wood.
The house doesnt reveal all its secrets. Theres no obvious reminder that the dining room was once a chicken coop just a few steps from the original two-room house. You have to be told that the floor of the master bedroom once served as a bowling alley in College Park.
Its a house full of stories.
Whats interesting about this house, says Blackistone, a writer, is that we learn new things about it all the time. With a place this old, you cant sort fact from fiction.
One feature of speculation is the narrow, windowed room at the front of the second-story landing. With the house sited on the highest point around, it boasts a great view of Chesapeake Bay across neighboring cottages set into a slope of clay. No bigger than a modern coat closet, the doorway shows that there was once a door here.
Ive been told that it served as a sort of lighthouse for ships coming up the Bay, says Blackistone. Thats the best explanation Ive heard. The idea is they put a kerosene lantern on a stool and closed the door. There was a steamboat landing nearby, and the house was high enough to be seen by any ships.
Blackistone says theres also an opening to a cave and tunnel on the property, both part of the Underground Railway for runaway slaves.
Whats it like living with all this history? Its only normal for Blackistone. My family came over on the Arc and the Dove, he relates. They landed at St. Clements Island in 1634 and were given a land grant on the Potomac by the king. Ive lived in this area all my life. I dont want to live anywhere else.
As on any May 4, Forever Fields will be clean on tour day. A host in each room will share the homes history and lore.
Blackistone finally admits one last bit of preparation: Im going to put in the slate walkway Ive been thinking about. Theres a muddy place by the fence.
3. Pay attention to your history. Like the Blackistones and the Edmundos, below. Write down everything you know about your property. Tell stories from the past and the present. Take photographs and videos of ordinary life. Document the facts and admit to the family mythology. The facts might be the basis, but the stories give history its zest.
Wild Duck Landing
|The landscaped expanse on the South River is made for sightseeing at Wild Duck Landing in London Town.
At Wild Duck Landing, near Historic London Town, getting ready for visitors requires attention inside and outside.
4. Dont forget to take out the trash. Clean out the garage, the basement and the attic. Put a few things into the closet or under the bed. The county landfill or a local consignment shop will take your castaways.
Ill get rid of some things, says Betty Edmondo cheerfully. Theyll go into the closet or under the bed.
Though the inside of the 1951 home is comfortable and charming, its the outside that will hold the most appeal for visitors, Pete Edmondo said. The landscaped expanse on the South River is made for sightseeing. Starting with a treed garden in front, the sights include a long, low rock garden visible from the house, magnificent cherry trees, childrens play space and a teahouse with spa.
The property, once part of Colonial London Town, is the site of a 1997-1998 archeological dig that showed evidence of a substantial brick dwelling and storehouse near the river. The site has been since filled in, but details of the excavation will be on exhibit during the tour.
Another kind of digging will take place in the next few weeks as Betty Edmondo takes on the hard work of putting in 1,000 annuals. Its not just for the tour, she emphasizes, but something she does every year. The rock garden will bloom in a riot of perennial color: bleeding hearts, phlox and alyssum.
5. If you cant match Betty Edmondos 1,000 annuals, plant as many as you can manage. Buy as much as you can afford but not more than you can plant. Use pansies for color now until the hot summer sun gladdens the heart of the zinnias. Add marigolds for natural pest control and season-long color.
|Pete and Betty Edmondo.
Inside the Edmondo house, emphasis is still on the outdoors. I want to feel outside when Im inside, says Betty Edmondo. Three walls of windows in the family room make that point. In the master bedroom, a bay window was added to accommodate two large recliners that look out past a weeping cherry tree and the rock garden to a grassy, treed area and the river beyond.
Even the artwork repeats the view, with watercolors painted on the scene by Elizabeth Baskerville McNaughton and an 1840 oil painting by Mary Duvall, an ancestor looking across the South River to London Town Public House and the Duvall property from a pier at Ferry Point on the north shore.
The Edmondos mean for the view to last. To meet that goal, they spent two long years going through the paperwork to get an historic easement for the property so it cannot be developed.
6. If you have a great view but you cant see from the inside, make a few changes. Add a bay window for your easy chairs as the Edmondos did. Or add windows in all the right places as Carole Bolsey and Twig Johnson did at Waterfields in Galesville.
|A gravel road leading to Waterfields in Galesville reveals land rolling down through green fields to the house below.
View plays an important role at Waterfields.
A decade ago, the house itself was a scene of controversy with a builder who failed to meet the aesthetic requirements and covenants of nearby historic Tulip Hill (also on the tour). With community support and intense dedication, Carole Bolsey and Twig Johnson were able to cut through a knot of nine lawsuits and counter-suits to purchase the property and create a new view for themselves and their neighbors.
Today, the gravel road leading to the house and studio reveals land rolling down through green fields to the house below as if the beauty of it happened by chance. In fact, the house was lowered by three feet and moved farther downhill to settle into a natural swale like a boat between rolling waves.
The house is further insinuated into the landscape through a garden approach that pleases the eye and gives away the artistic nature of the owner. From the glassed front door the view is double. Inside we see Bolseys large paintings of landscapes in unexpected colors that feature the familiar, simple shapes of barns or small boats. These appear in tandem with the real-life view of fields, woods, the road into Galesville and water through windows as large as the paintings. The house seems only a lull caught between waves.
We lived on Capitol Hill in a tiny townhouse for three and a half years while searching like refugees for some land and a barn with little or no house, says Bolsey. Chance brought the artist and her environmentalist husband to the Galesville site. Persistence brought them and the house into harmony with the land and the neighbors.
But it was purple martins that made the house a home.
Four springs ago, relates Bolsey, I noticed purple martins zooming in under the eaves. But they had no place to lodge. After I made little platforms, they moved in, nested and raised their babies as we watched. We got to hear their chitter-chatter all day long. We got to see the babies learn to fly.
Now this is my home. And add reason number two. Airfares are so cheap that I can fly my beloved nieces and nephews here from all over the country for archery, quilt-making, riding the lawn mower and fishing.
|In her home that is also a working studio, Carole Bolsey wants tour visitors to enjoy the freedom of seeing artwork where it is made.
In this home that is also a working studio, Bolsey wants tour visitors to enjoy the freedom of seeing artwork where it is made. In the kitchen, abounding with small paintings, she wants visitors to see the immediacy of living with artwork. In the living room, where large paintings live in harmony with wall-sized windows, she wants visitors to bask in the harmony between art and nature.
To help nature along, Bolsey has put in a garden that flows down a wave of land to meet the front door.
I hope you feel that youre strolling through a landscape when you to come to the house, she says. Perennial beds soften the contours and integrate the house with the cadence of the rolling hills. It could flow. It could almost be there by itself. Its a little wild. I dont ever want it to look manicured.
Inside, Bolsey says, the house is like a raw canvas. Art and simple things co-exist to make a comfortable home. Every chair has a good reading light. As much as my artwork, my house, my gardens, quilts, food all are ways of making.
Before the house tour, but also for a May wedding planned at the house, Bolsey will complement iris, thyme, hooded aconitum and salmon pagoda flowers by putting in as many pink and white annuals as I can find.
7. Go native. Set trees and bushes free of invasive, entangling honeysuckle. Plant native varieties instead. Find out which plants to avoid and which to favor from U.S. Fish and Wildlifes booklet Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. Consult the booklet on-line at www.nps.gov/plants.
Way down at the southern tip of the state, part-time Annapolitan Maggie OBrien has been working on 140 acres of nature at Jubilee Farm for about as long as shes been president of St. Marys College of Maryland.
I love a big project, says OBrien, who shares the farm with her husband James Grube and two college-aged sons. I am a gardener. The pool is a good 200 paces from the back of the house, and Ive spent the last six years integrating the pool and the house across knolls and a ravine. I drew it out on grid paper to start, and, with persistence, it has fallen out almost as planned.
Jubilee Farm rides an estuary between the Potomac River and Blake Creek with typical Chesapeake land rolling down to the waterfront. The farmhouse sits on a perch of land that spreads out to a wooded rim of oaks, pines and hemlocks. The landscaping goes out to meet the woods with azaleas, rhododendrons, viburnum, bald cypress, weigela and hostas. The cherry trees within a distance of three-quarters of a mile have been cleared of entangling vines, allowing their spring beauty to appear after years in hiding.
|Maggie OBrien, president of St. Marys College of Maryland and owner of Jubilee Farm in St. Marys County.
The farmhouse is not large or modern, cautions OBrien. Its past is as a prosperous farm. Its a modest but well-tended farmhouse with several outbuildings and Amish-built barns. In style, its as close to French Provençal as youll find in this county.
But being inside is not important to me, says OBrien. If I can squeeze in an hour per day in the garden, Im happy. In the fall I can manage five or more hours on a weekend to put the gardens to bed for the season. In the spring I need help. Two boys work with me, and I hire the lacrosse team one day a year to do some heavy work.
Moving 50 tons of rock using a front-end loader three years ago required only the help of one female student. OBrien put in a series of three retention ponds when she discovered heavy rains were creating a gouge across the land. It works perfectly to filter the fertilizers and maintain water quality, says OBrien. And we have waterfalls between ponds when it rains.
Last year, OBrien put in 15,000 daffodils. Thats in addition to thousands put in by the previous owner. The result allows the continuation of an old tradition at Jubilee Farm. On the day of the tour, each visitor will be given a small bag of Jubilee jonquils along with some historic tidbits. They will be gifted with the rich and magnificent scents of sweet locust and flowering lilacs. Theyll see the beginnings of a vineyard, but there wont be wine samplings this year.
8. Invite company to share the contentment of your home. Give them gifts from nature and history. All it takes is a trip to the garden or a visit to an old story. Add a photo or painting to make the memory special.
Spring cleaning. Cut flowers. Old stories. Annuals. New windows. Native plants. Gifts of nature. The persistent lesson from the house and garden pilgrimage is that the outside is the key to enjoying the inside.
Houses on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage are open 10am to 5pm, rain or shine. $25 per tour. $5 per single house. In Anne Arundel County, a portion of your fee benefits the Captain Salem Avery House; in St. Marys, Historic St. Marys City. Box lunches ($10) at St. James Parish in Anne Arundel; in St. Marys ($9), at Trinity Episcopal Church.
No children under 12. No interior photographs, smoking, pets or drinks. Wear flat shoes with wide heels to protect floors: 410/821-6933 www.mhgp.org.
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