Beauty and Mystery in Druid Hill Park

  • Volunteers of the Cylburn Arboretum Association
  • Entry Road
  • Floral Blooms
  • Overrun Bench


Autumn Colors at Cylburn

Volunteers of the Cylburn Arboretum Association Inc. help keep the park beautiful. Here they repair a path on a warm November day. Jesse Tyson, the first owner of Cylburn, and his wife Edyth planted many trees in the late 19th Century. A tree and shrub map on the Association web site shows locations. The specimens, up to 150 years old, are such “notable trees” as Japanese maple, sugar maples, Ginkgos, dawn redwoods, conifers, beeches, magnolias, weeping cherry trees, boxwoods, longleaf pines, paw-paw, China fir, Atlas cedar and black walnut. The trees were developed into a full collection from 1958 to 1994 under the care of Gerald Moudry, chief horticulturist of Baltimore City.

No Tree Climbing, Please

Arnold Blume, a retired school teacher, strolls around Cylburn on his first visit and declares it “beautiful” and “wonderful”. A yoga class is doing its backbends and other poses in a big circle on one lawn. Couples walk hand in hand and stop to inspect the flowers. Scattered around the green park are benches, birds, butterflies, chipmunks, squirrels, bushes, flowers and a few children. But a sign on one inviting tree with low-hanging branches says “Please don’t climb the tree.” An arboretum is a place where trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are grown for educational and scientific purposes. Cylburn also has a Nature Museum attracting families to the Carriage House and classrooms in the Greenhouse Complex.

Public Gardens Since 1954

Visitors can walk and inspect the peaceful grounds of Cylburn in 60 to 90 minutes. The beautiful Mansion property draws more people than the partly closed insides of the Renaissance Revival building completed in 1868. George Frederick, the architect of City Hall, designed the mansion as the home of Jessie Tyson (1826-1906), flour and chemical businessman. The city bought the property at auction in 1942 for $42,000 although it was valued at far more. The Board of Recreation and Parks began the Cylburn Wildflower Preserve and Garden Center in 1954. This became Cylburn Arboretum in 1982. The park is near the Cylburn neighborhood of mostly African-American residents.

A Cozy City Park

Cylburn Arboretum is a lovely Baltimore city park located conveniently a few miles north of Druid Hill Park at 4915 Greenspring Avenue, the road that cuts through Druid Hill. Cylburn features a rich collection of 15 gardens scattered around the Mansion House. Seasonal flowers include roses, daylilies, dahlias, daffodils and other flowers. The 207-acre park is free and open all year. The gate opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. The preserve is closed Mondays. People can walk on paved paths by lawns and trees and on three miles of dirt trails in woods. The Vollmer Center for visitors, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., has exhibits, lectures, dinners and other events a few steps from ample parking.

White Winter Shawl

After a cover of snow fell overnight, I walked on Druid Hill early to begin the new year of 1989 afresh. There were no other footprints, no sounds, no stir, no wind under the oatmeal sky and the half-light.  I was sleepwalking in a peaceful, manicured wilderness, yards and a world from the rambunctious, soiled city.

Death of an Osage Orange

A runner breezed past a celebrated Osage Orange tree on Greenspring Avenue on October 22, 2012. It had been saved in the 19th Century when a new road was routed around it. I was photographing the tree, 400 years old, born before Indians deeded the land to Lord Baltimore in 1652.  I returned to admire the Orange with a friend a week later, hours after Hurricane Sandy. We found disaster.  Sandy had leveled the 76-foot sprawling wonder. One witness survived; a root was upended and emerged like a bird screaming in agony. Workmen put yellow tape around the crime scene.

Figures In The Fog

In my imagination, Dr. Watson perambulated towards me under gaslights one day in a London-type fog. His absent friend Sherlock Holmes was playing his violin and waiting for a crime to visit 221B Baker Street. Other intriguing characters emerged from the grayness: William Wallace, martyred champion of Scotland, holding his sword high; an oak ghost created from a tree stump by a chainsaw artist, gloomy opera composer Richard Wagner and a jogger in red enveloped in his own world. The Moorish castle beckoned across Druid Lake as a fable wrapped in a dream.

Daybreak At Druid

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The park is an oasis for sweating, resting and dreaming. Druid rewards early dreamers at lakeside. Clouds disguised as yellow puffs, grey rollers, whitecaps, and tsunamis greet the city and make room for sunrises with golden tails. On city streets, I don’t follow the clouds. In the park I do. They loom large, small, fast, slow, white, dark gray coverall, or bright blue umbrella.

Ghosts Live In These Woods

Druid is rich in the vine-covered romance of past park glories. Some Baltimoreans have claimed and feared real ghosts in there and declined to enter. A blacksmith shop on Blacksmith Road once shod hooves of horses treading bridle paths. A stairway that led to a Three Sisters Ponds is a tangled nowhere. Wild greenery embraces forgotten pavilions.  A bench missing ribs was long ignored near grass being regularly trimmed.  A Grove of Remembrance, dedicated after World War I with 48 oaks for sons lost, has in turn lost many state plaques. I found Vermont, Maryland and Minnesota still planted in the soil.

Sunday Brunch For 100

Many creatures live along the Jones Falls Trail winding through the park outside the zoo. I have seen, heard or smelled eight deer eating grass by the tennis courts, foxes near Mountain Pass Road, red-wing blackbirds alight on fences, hawks, eagles, webworms, groundhogs, opossum, loose dogs, cicada, crickets, rabbits, skunks, robins, butterflies, woodpeckers, crows, owls and more. One hundred geese look for food one Sunday morning. They all live outside the Maryland Zoo which keeps human vandals out by an encircling fence since 1970.