There’s a change in the air in downtown Annapolis. At long last, March winds and April showers are giving way to sunshine, straw hats, and May flowers. Like a long-held secret bursting out, May Day is a beautiful phenomenon in our town, thanks to the traditions of the City’s garden clubs.
The Meaning of May Day
The custom of celebrating May Day on the first of May has been cause for merriment in the northern hemisphere since ancient times, because the date falls almost midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Various cultures have celebrated May Day over the millennia, not only as an astronomical occurrence, but as a harbinger of spring and the greening of the earth. The ancient customs remain alive today in the placement of May Baskets of flowers on porches and doors and in the performance of the ritual Maypole dance with colorful ribbons wrapping around a tall pole.
May Day in Historic Annapolis continues the celebration, with flowers everywhere to mark the arrival of spring for our visitors, residents, businesses, and local garden clubs. May Baskets spilling over with fresh flowers can be seen hanging on nearly every home and storefront, as their owners compete in the May Basket competition of the Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne.
Also on May Day in Annapolis, the ribbons on a Maypole dance in the breeze at the annual May Mart plant sale next to the Market House at the foot of Main Street. A spring tradition of the Four Rivers Garden Club, May Mart is sought out by gardeners year after year. Elsewhere, the Naval Academy gates are graced with May Baskets created by the Naval Academy Garden Club. And over at the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Garden Club of Annapolis welcomes visitors to its own annual May Fair boutique, with proceeds benefitting community projects. Each of these special events is a springtime custom of one of the garden clubs in Annapolis.
May Basket Tradition
From Main Street to Maryland Avenue to Murray Hill to the West Street Arts District, colorful fresh floral displays on doors, pedestals, and park benches bring visitors downtown to admire the creativity. The enchanting May Basket tradition was started almost six decades ago by the Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne and continues today with a May Day judging conducted by the Club’s dedicated volunteers, who steadfastly trek the City’s streets to carefully choose the May Basket blue ribbon winners. Baskets created by children are eligible for a pink ribbon and a lollipop. My mother-in-law, Shirley Powell, a civic leader in Annapolis during the last half of the 1900s, was a proud member and May Basket judge in the Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne. You can find a tree planted in her memory along Conduit Street.
This year’s May Basket event marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Garden Club of Old Annapolis Towne, and the Club members plan to invite the winning May Basket participants to tea later on at the William Paca House and Garden on Prince George Street. Owned and managed by Historic Annapolis, this carefully restored colonial home is named for its former owner, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and early Maryland Governor. On May Day this year, Historic Annapolis will open the beautiful 18th century style two-acre “pleasure garden” to the public at no charge. And leading up to May Day this year, those who reside at Annapolis zip codes may visit the Paca House and Garden at no charge during the month of April.
On May Day, the seventieth annual May Mart from 8:00am to 2:00pm will showcase the work of the Four Rivers Garden Club next to the Market House and City Dock. In the May Mart tradition, the gardeners of Four Rivers don their straw hats and aprons to offer for sale cut flowers, herbs, annuals, garden treasures, and perennials. Hand-crafted May Baskets can be pre-ordered for shops and residences, and visitors can also learn to create their own baskets at a $25 morning workshop. Contact by email for details. Pre-registration for the workshop is recommended, but walk-ups are also welcome. This year, the Four Rivers Garden Club has the added honor of making the May Basket for Government House, the Governor’s residence on State Circle.
Along with making May Baskets, the Four Rivers gardeners spread the love of gardening by selling perennials divided and dug from their own gardens. Perennials are those flowering plants that winter over and return year after year, peeking up in the spring and growing quickly to produce flowers and foliage in the landscape. The Club has a spring work day quaintly dubbed “Potting Up,” when members pot and prepare their newly dug perennial plants for the May Mart sale.
The proceeds of the May Mart plant sale are returned to the community. For the past ninety years, the nonprofit Four Rivers Garden Club has worked to fulfill the Club’s mission of encouraging environmental responsibility, conducting community planting projects, and sharing the knowledge and love of gardening. Four Rivers and other Annapolis clubs are among the ninety-nine clubs comprising the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, and all share a similar mission.
Blooms for Annapolis
These May Day garden club traditions welcoming spring are followed in the summer by the Annapolis in Bloom effort of the Main Streets’ Annapolis Partnership (MAP). Working with the City of Annapolis, Homestead Gardens, Annapolis Green, and many other donors, MAP beautifies the Annapolis business district with flowers growing in more than a hundred hanging flower baskets and sidewalk containers.
This year, join us downtown to celebrate May Day. Take in the beauty of the May Baskets on display as you stroll down Main Street to the Annapolis Harbor, visit the Four Rivers May Mart near City Dock, and circle back to browse among the shops and view the May Baskets along Maryland Avenue and West Street. Spring has sprung, and Annapolis is bursting into bloom. Visit us downtown, and you’re bound to be bedazzled.
Photos Courtesy of Ann Powell©
The writer is the current President of the Four Rivers Garden Club. To order a May Basket or sign up for the May Basket workshop, contact her at [email protected]