Room to Grow at London Town
By Maria Price
Historic London Town and Gardens is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year marking the creation of this gem of a garden in Mayo. It’s a lovely garden and arboretum, historic tavern, archaeological site and a venue for weddings and special events, overlooking the South River.
On April 15, 1971, two of the first visitors, Alma and Edward Larrimore, signed the original registry for what was then the London Town Publik House and Arboretum as they toured the 1760 William Brown House, the restored colonial tavern which also served as Anne Arundel County’s almshouse in the 1820s. The Larrimores were the last administrators of the Brown House when it closed in 1965.
The county and the London Town Publik House Commission began the process of restoring the building and turning the site into the museum and public garden we know today. John O. Crandall and company constructed the 175-foot-long pile driven pier in the South River. The county partnered with professors R.L. Baker and C.N. Johnson, along with Dr. Tony Dove, London Town’s first horticulturalist, and created a plan to use the gardens to showcase what can grow in the Chesapeake region.
The first tree in London Town’s gardens was donated by the North Shore Garden Club with Hope Andrews and William Stallings. Dr. William Ackerman would test his cold-hardy camellias at London Town over a decade later and named one of his camellias ‘Winter Hope’ in honor of Andrews. The camellia still blooms in the gardens each fall and winter.
They planted exotic botanical specimens between the meadows and downstream ravines. The gardens were loosely modeled after the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew in England. Many of the original conifer trees, magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons continued to thrive. Many of the early plantings remain as crucial collections today.
London Town was recently awarded the designation of an All-America Selections Display Garden. AAS is a nonprofit that conducts trials of new, never-before-sold annual ornamentals, perennials and vegetables throughout North America. Each fall, they accept new variety entries that have not yet been introduced to the market.
Nearly 200 botanical gardens, arboretums, colleges, universities, cooperative extensions, garden centers, seed companies, city centers, and public parks create and proudly host All-American Selections Display Gardens. London Town will receive free AAS Winner seeds to continue the enhancement of their gardens’ collections. After a full season of anonymous trialing by volunteer horticulture professionals, only the top garden performers are given the AAS Winner award designation for their superior performance.
Countless volunteers, staff, board and supporters have made it possible to continue building upon the remarkable foundation created in the 1970s. Visit Historic London Town for the 50th anniversary lecture series and garden tour Tuesday, May 4, with Don Hyatt and Carol Segree, two wonderful azalea and rhododendron experts, who will talk about the Marshy Point azaleas. The first 30 minutes will be a Zoom lecture, followed by a 30-minute optional in-person tour. Details and pricing at www.historiclondontown.org.