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A Message From Our President: 50 Fabulous Years


Lord Tennyson wrote, “In springtime, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” In springtime at Historic Annapolis, our fancy lightly turns to thoughts of the William Paca Garden! And this year is especially memorable, as we celebrate 50 years of the Paca Garden and the Plant Sale, held annually on Mother’s Day weekend. 

You may be familiar with the history of the Paca Garden, a colonial urban oasis reconstructed in the 1970s in time for the nation’s bicentennial. For 65 years, the garden was buried under Carvel Hall Hotel, which had been built on the site at the turn of the 20th century, and later covered by a gas station and a parking lot. When both the Paca House and Carvel Hall were slated for demolition in the 1960s, HA stepped in and, in partnership with the State of Maryland, we restored the house and reconstructed the garden to its mid-18th century appearance.  

The Paca Garden under restoration in October 1969.

The examination of two pieces of artwork by Charles Wilson Peale and Frances Mayer and the results of archaeological excavation revealed important clues about the appearance of the garden during William Paca’s day. Known as a Chesapeake falling garden complete with terraces, parterres, garden follies and a central allée, the design reflects Renaissance ideals, classical inspirations, and contrasts between order and ‘the wilderness.’ 

Prior to the Carvel Hall period, the historic garden served many purposes over the years – from a welcome retreat from the busy townscape in the 18th century to supplying produce to the Naval Academy mess hall in the late 19th century. Over the past 50 years, it has provided a picturesque backdrop for many weddings and social occasions, and, importantly, as a living classroom for thousands of schoolchildren from across the state. Some of my favorite features are the physic garden where we grow historic plants that heal; the orchard of pear, apple, fig, and peach trees; and a majestic bald cypress tree rising on the banks of the fish-shaped pond. 

For the first time in its history, we are weaving a universally accessible path throughout the garden, knitting together sources of private and public funding. Thanks to Delegate Dana Jones and Senator Sarah Elfreth, and several private funders, we will be advancing the next stage of this project in the coming months, working with partners McHale Landscape Design and Campion Hruby Landscape Architects to honor our commitment to make the state assets we manage accessible and welcoming to everyone.

The garden serves as our museum organization’s living collection, and needs continual care, maintenance, and funding.  Fifty years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers began a beloved annual tradition to raise funds for HA, hosting a Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend. Today, under the leadership of Cheryl Finlay, dozens of kindred spirits spend thousands of hours year-round preparing for the sale. “This is my happy place,” says Marie Lee, who has been an active volunteer since 1991. Without question, this fundraiser is built upon the sweat equity of this dedicated volunteer army. If not for them, this decades-old tradition would not survive.  

The Plant Sale represents many things – sustainability, growth, commitment, and companionship. But most of all, when I am present among the many volunteers who lovingly share their time and talent with HA, I am reminded of the pleasure we derive by giving back to a place that means so much to all of us – Annapolis.  

Sale hours are Saturday, May 11, from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday, May 12, from 12 pm to 4 pm. Entry to the Paca Garden Plant Sale is free and located at 1 Martin Street in Annapolis. Members of Historic Annapolis receive early admission at 9:30 am on Saturday, and a 10% discount on their purchase. Gardeners will be on hand to recommend choices for your growing conditions. For more information, visit I’m looking forward to seeing you there!