As I've said before, I'm an "Accidental Hamptonite." I belong more in the "land of genteel decay," as a colleague once described Roland Park, than in a summer playground of the rich and sometimes-famous.
That said, I have just returned from my 10th summer visit to Long Island, N.Y. Again I visited close college friends and their families. One has a house in East Hampton; the other is in Sagaponack, near the site of the Hampton Classic, where she and her daughter ride each year. Being with old friends makes me feel at home, even with some surrounding alien lifestyles. Rambling shingle and clapboard houses feel like Roland Park, even if many are two to three times the size of those here, and few show peeling paint or overgrowth in the yards.
Besides 44 years of friendships, what draws me to this place is its physical beauty. No wonder artists have long been attracted to Long Island. The light and the green are mesmerizing. Cooler temperatures and breezes make the climate and gardens more akin to England than to Baltimore.
Beauty inspires beauty. Fine gardens abound, as do planters. At almost every home and store, flowers in containers sit by the door, under the windows, on the porch or terrace. Even banks sport urns and well-tended planters. Grocery stores do, too. They also sell cut flowers that rival those at Baltimore's best florists.
Both of my friends have exquisite containers at every doorway, around their pools, even by the stables. One winters-over containers of mandevilla in her living room. The other has a greenhouse and gardeners, who tend dozens of containers on the property that she and her husband rent.
Many fine nurseries there provide healthy perennials, annuals and shrubbery to fill an ever-increasing number of containers. The nurseries themselves are an annual draw for me. Where else have I seen Texas sage at a garden center? A proliferation of subtropical oleander trees in containers makes me feel as if I'm near the Mediterranean and not in New England. This year, in my zeal to identify plants, I developed a ferocious allergic reaction to something after reaching deep inside a variegated holly or a smoke bush to find tags naming their cultivars.
While harder to maintain in steamy Baltimore, more containers here would make this city look better and city residents feel better about living here. (So would a citizenry that picks up trash, but that is another topic.) If the Roland Park Shopping Center, the Eddie's block and even the fire station were in the Hamptons, containers with colorful annuals, occasional boxwoods and spruce would flank doors and dress windows. Cold Spring Lane eateries and the Lake Falls Village shops could serve as examples of what might be done.
Some of the money spent, or made, on the upcoming Labor Day Grand Prix in Baltimore might be well used to sponsor citywide planters. Even in cash-strapped times, funds should be found for more beautification and, best of all, to organize a corps of young city dwellers to learn about growing and maintaining plants.
The owner of a Baltimore landscaping company suggested to me this spring that Baltimore City host a large garden show. He envisioned display gardens, educational forums and vendors in a city park, like Druid Hill. He suggested that the event could move to a different park each year and attract regional attention.
Such an event would be a big draw. Think of the Philadelphia Flower Show. An innovative high school might join area colleges in developing a horticulture curriculum, so that more work in this expanding industry could be done by Baltimoreans. With many area garden clubs, the event might find loyal volunteers.
Clean, green spaces, like opportunities for the young, create a vibrant place year round.