Pauline Vollmer, the grande dame of Baltimore horticulture, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Among various festivities in her garden, she celebrated with principals and staff of the renowned Washington, D.C. landscape architecture firm Oehme van Sweden (OvS) A few days later she celebrated with officers and members of the Horticultural Society of Maryland.
The celebration with OvS might also have been considered a celebration of the firm, which pioneered the New American style of gardens. The Vollmer garden, originally designed in the 1960s by the late Wolfgang Oehme, is considered the first residential project of OvS.
More than half a century later, Pauline Vollmer and her garden are looking good. Three terraces that descend gradually from a terrace to the back of the property. The original
lily pond, modernist furniture, and sculpture remain. Graceful sweeps of perennials and grasses fill her well-maintained garden, front and back.
As I wandered the signature curved garden path, I recalled the first time I visited the garden. Mrs. Vollmer was laying down newspapers and magazines over the weeds, a gesture reminiscent of other early organic gardeners. She said that phone books were better, but she couldn’t lift them anymore.
Today others care for her garden, but in celebrating her birthday, Mrs. Vollmer carried on animated conversation with fellow horticulturalists as she received floral bouquets and unusual plants. I cannot imagine myself at 100 looking as good or being as sharp as Pauline Vollmer. My garden, almost 100 itself, is surely not comparable.
Besides her garden, Pauline Vollmer, with her late husband Leo, enriched Baltimore by the generous funding of the Vollmer Center at Cylburn Arboretum. It is hard to imagine Cylburn without it.
It is equally hard to imagine a garden still flourishing after 60 years. Like Pauline Vollmer, both her garden and those at Cylburn are an inspiration to many.