It's easy to miss Waldorf Pottery as you speed through Charles County along Rte. 301--or at least dismiss it as one of those side-of-the-road outlets stocked with unmistakably ordinary stuff. If you stop for a closer look, though, you can see that there aren't any of the typical signs that designate certain roadside businesses: trolls or miniature windmills or chenille bedspreads flapping in the wind. There's not even a plastic pink flamingo in sight.
In fact, what you see is an impressive array of garden statuary, fountains, patio furniture, pottery and other outdoor embellishments on display here in White Plains. Only the shiny chain-link fence surrounding the lot seems out of place.
"That chain-link fence is coming down soon, thank goodness," says Mary Drake, who opened Waldorf Pottery in a former car dealership back in 1985. By fall, a decorative iron fence will surround the one-acre, outdoor display area.
Drake started Waldorf Pottery as a way of selling "seconds," or mildly damaged items, from Mid-Atlantic Pottery, her brother's wholesale pottery company in La Plata. This was back when discount pottery places like Williamsburg Pottery and Waccamaw were all the rage.
"Then I realized that discount was not the way to go," says Drake, sitting at one of the many Brown Jordan patio sets displayed both inside and out. "People were looking for something substantial for the garden and home." After going to trade shows and scouting the market, Drake made a decision: "I told myself, 'I'm going to start selling good-quality stuff!' "
She now offers an eclectic assortment of home and garden products, especially inside the former Datsun showroom. That's where most of her extensive supply of metal topiary forms ($29 to $200) are sold, as well as iron supports (24 to 72 inches tall, $19 to $89) that rest in pots of climbing vines, and graduated sizes of hanging planters ($14 to $24) lined with coconut moss.
But the outside area holds the bulk of what draws people to Waldorf Pottery. Drake has a generous inventory of benches, fountains, pots, urns, pedestals, sundials, patio sets, rec- tangular planters, statues and Oriental objects, in concrete, iron, cast aluminum, clay and stoneware. Tucked under the "shade house" are perennials and annuals, and various conifers and other evergreens are dotted throughout the selling area. There's also a notable selection of Italian terra-cotta pots that range from 40 cents for a seedling size to $300 for a four-foot-wide pot.
While there are plenty of practical gardening items to buy, indoors is largely devoted to the decorative. Anchoring the space are pieces of painted furniture, such as bookcases, hutches, benches, end tables, spice cabinets--all with that well-worn look of age. These are new pieces from Indonesia, however, which makes them much cheaper than true antiques. And they make a great backdrop for the gift items Drake sells, including lots of high-quality silk flowers, gardening books and knickknacks.
Another highlight inside is the assortment of gazing balls, ranging in size from eight inches ($34) to 12 inches ($69). These colored metallic balls--picture a giant glass Christmas ornament resting on an iron form--were all the vogue in Victorian times and are making a comeback.
Also there are stone garden balls from Vietnam that look like bowling balls without the holes, glazed a cobalt blue ($29 for an eight-inch diameter; $49 for the 12-inch).
And, finally, for those customers with their hearts set on a pink flamingo for the front yard, Drake can oblige. She keeps a supply out of sight and sells them, mainly as gag gifts, for $12.99 a pair. "They're the neck up, neck down kind," says Drake, referring to the flamingo's classic pose. In plastic, of course.