Photography by Tony Amador
Kilburn? Kile-burn? Sill-born? How DO you pronounce it? And where is it? That’s what people once asked about Cylburn Arboretum (pronounced SILL-burn, by the way). No more. This once under-discovered treasure on Greenspring Avenue, near Sinai Hospital, today enjoys rising-star status among the green oases of Baltimore City. Hundreds of well-pruned trees, wide lawns, 14 gardens and 3.5 miles of trails greet visitors as they walk, jog, bike or drive through the shiny black gates.
Some 42,000 visitors each year experience nature, educational programs and entertainment on the 207-acre property that once belonged to chromium magnate Jesse Tyson. This year, Cylburn celebrates 60 years as an arboretum open to the public for free. Although the Tyson estate was purchased by the city in 1942, it was turned into a home for neglected children. In 1954, Cylburn reverted back to public park status.
“While Tyson’s brother’s house, Ruscombe, is surrounded today by cement, Jesse Tyson’s home is still gardens and an arboretum. He and his wife were all about the landscape. They had a conservatory that’s gone now,” says Lynda McClary, executive director of the Cylburn Arboretum Association. The nonprofit maintains and installs the plants and trees and organizes public programs and outreach initiatives, from outings and camps for children to yoga classes and art exhibits. The buildings, grounds and plantings themselves are owned by Baltimore City.
On a sunny weekday afternoon, joggers run on the trail by the entrance. A family picnics near the 10,000-square-foot Vollmer Center, a green building with three green roofs, offices for the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland and the Horticultural Society of Maryland, which recently designed and installed a stylish new entrance garden.
Two children ride a scooter and a trike up to the 1868 Victorian Revival mansion designed by George A. Frederick, also the architect of City Hall. Under an adjacent collection of Japanese maple trees, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) professor and Cylburn’s artist-in-residence Paul Moscatt and his wife paint the sculptural canopy of these 150-year-old trees. In nearby formal gardens, frequently used for weddings, Moscatt’s student paints a Lady Baltimore statue.
Beyond a flagstone patio, a photographer shoots the bountiful, end-of-season All-America Selections display of the latest plants and vegetables. Sounds of schoolchildren carry up the hill from the greenhouses and the Johns Hopkins Aquaponics Project, where fish, herbs and vegetables are raised in 3,000 gallons of water.
Cylburn Arboretum has year-round interest. “It is one of the few mature forests in the city,” says McClary. “Some trees are 250 years old.” Tree collections include the evergreen conifer, holly, magnolia and boxwood, as well as deciduous maple, chestnut, oak, dogwood and Japanese maple. Ancient ginkgos and dawn redwoods are stunning in autumn, as are collections of graceful grasses and flaming viburnums. Six named gardens, some filled with native plantings and berries, attract butterflies, beneficial insects and migrating birds.
“The row of maples between the parking lots catches both early morning and late evening sun,” says chief horticulturalist Melissa Grim. “Their yellow color glows when the sun strikes them.” Even the parking lots at Cylburn have curb appeal.