In the minds of many, Baltimore, Maryland, is merely a monolithic urban jungle. However, any local resident with an eye for gardening knows that this is far from true. Charm City as the locals call the city holds countless modest little parks, gardens, and other green spaces for all kinds of plant-lovers and general tourists alike.
Still, even in this unassuming embarrassment of riches, I have a favorite. Sherwood Gardens, nestled away in a quiet historic neighborhood, is privately-owned but fully free and open to the public for visitation during any day of the year. Though, while you can technically visit during any season, I would recommend marking your calendars for mid-spring. Every spring, from April to May, Sherwood hosts an extravagant, can’t-miss yearly tulip display with origins steeped in historical influence.
History of Sherwood Gardens
In the early 1900s, John Sherwood, a prominent local businessman, started to take an interest in landscape design. At the time, Sherwood was mainly focused on decorating his personal estate and had little to no idea of the enduring legacy that this hobby would leave behind. Soon, Sherwood started collecting different varieties of trees to add to his rapidly growing garden, but that wasn’t the end. Before long, Sherwood began to form a habit of importing copious numbers of beautiful annuals every year. After noticing public appreciation for the spring blossoms, the main attraction being the tulips, Sherwood generously opened up his gardens to the public.
To this day, Sherwood Gardens continues the tradition of planting thousands of tulips for viewing in the spring. The sheer volume of tulips here is difficult to find anywhere else. The gardens also boast a large number of tulips variations ranging in both size and color. There are also several spring-flowering classics to supplement this self-admitted monoculture, most notably being the iconic daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). Additionally, the summer-blooming flowers that are planted after the tulips have faded are themselves a sight to behold.
Sherwood has a healthy mix of both secluded shaded benches and a number of prominent open sections of lawn, so it is a great place for a quiet moment of reflection as well as a large family picnic. It is also not uncommon to see a large group congregating for a photo-shoot or similar organized event.
Trees and Shrubs at Sherwood Gardens
I’ve talked a lot about Sherwood’s famous annuals, but their selection of shrubs and trees is not to be overlooked. While their evergreen inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a smart choice for a backdrop for the flowerbeds, the biggest part of the genius of the garden is that the peak bloom for many of their most prominent flowering trees coincides with that of the famous tulips.
Cherry blossom-like but more vibrant and slightly darker with a more natural branching structure, eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) might be the prettiest tree in the entire world during spring. Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) have a delicate white blossom with dashes of brown on all four petals. Many Christians claim that the flower resembles a cross with marks of blood in the places where Jesus was bound, and they bloom right around Easter in late spring to early summer. These are just two of the small flowering trees at Sherwood.
Additionally, the canopy trees at Sherwood are what define the excellent structure of the garden and provide the shade for parts of the lawn. These are a variety of species from the oak, maple, sweetgum, and elm families that often wear useful name tags for the education of any curious visitors.
Recognized as 2020’s Best Urban Garden by Baltimore Magazine, all of these botanical composition elements have allowed Sherwood to enjoy widespread appreciation from the local community.
These various attributes are all able to come together so seamlessly in large part due to Sherwood’s proud implementation of the Seven Olmsted Design Principles. These principles of scenery, suitability, style, subordination, separation, sanitation, and service are explained in detail on their website, but essentially, the seven S’s establish guidelines for a landscape designer to maximize the experience of the viewer, properly utilize the unique contributions of each and every plant, and emphasize retaining the practical purpose and natural beauty of the location in question.
When You Go:
Baltimore as a whole is underrated as a tourist destination with sightseeing and nightlife areas, including Inner Harbor and Fells Point. Baltimore is also a great college town with many university buildings and museums to visit. Sherwood is less than a mile away from the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Museum and Johns Hopkins University Archaeological Museum.
The neighborhood of the gardens is also a special treat of its own. Located in one of the safest areas of the city, Guilford neighborhood homes have beautiful brick architecture and elegant gardens themselves. Additionally, Sherwood Gardens’ website lists several nearby restaurants of note. If during your visit you are interested in booking a photo shoot or business-related event, click here for Sherwood’s event request form.
Lastly, if you enjoy your visit, feel free to make a donation to support the garden.
Paul Wisner has been a passionate plant-lover and native gardener all his life and is currently studying Environmental Science and Economics at Johns Hopkins University. You can find him on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/paul-wisner-19a164252