An open-air market is more than merchandise. There's the satisfaction of just looking, the chitchat with vendors, the setting, the sunshine -- even for those who resist all temptation to buy. For those with frayed nerves from a winter spent in overheated indoor spaces, markets offer an inviting opportunity to stroll outdoors while picking out anything from a green vegetable for dinner to a table to eat it on.
At the Charlotte Hall Farmer's Market (1), it's Amish meets funk-o-rama. There are 71 indoor shops and 150 outdoor vendors carrying new furniture, new clothes, old furniture, old clothes, poultry, produce, jellies and jams. There are horses craning their necks from corrals to get a look at the goings-on, game hens in pens for sale for breeding or eating, local fruits and vegetables and freshly baked goods. Horse auctions take place twice yearly. Open: year-round, Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 29890 Three Notch Rd., on Maryland Route 5 near Golden Beach Road, Charlotte Hall, Md.; 301-884-3108.
Azalea Trace (2) is the place if you've got azalea fever and find the pickings slim close to home. Charles and Wanda Hanners, who were once avid azalea hobbyists, started their Calvert County business 16 years ago; they now run an azalea nursery with 500-plus varieties for sale in containers. Open: April through June, 8:30 a.m. until dark; July through September, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 5510 Stephen Reid Rd., Huntingtown, Md.; 301-855-2305.
The Georgetown Flea Market (3) has been in operation for 27 years and has more than 100 vendors selling high-end antiques and collectibles. What is available is the creme de la creme of junk. Open: year-round, Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wisconsin Avenue between 34th Street and Whitehaven Parkway NW; 202-223-0289; www.gflea.com.
Windy Hill Plant Farm (4) prides itself on its cutting-edge plants -- new species from other countries, or hybrids, or just hard-to-find or hard-to-propagate plants -- many of which are selected to survive the particular torments of Washington's growing season. All of the native plants are grown from seed, cuttings or division, not dug from the wild. Describing the particular conditions of your garden space here is akin to talking about your pet's idiosyncrasies with a sympathetic vet. It's enough to help even a rank amateur on to greater gardening glory. Windy Hill also has a weekly newsletter, a catalogue and a Web site. Open: March through November, daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; 40413 John Mosby Hwy., Aldie, Va.; 703-327-4211; www.windyhill.net.
Dixon's Furniture (5) is widely known simply as "Crumpton," after the town it's in. Established in the 1950s, Dixon's holds three simultaneous auctions every Wednesday: one field dedicated to antiques and better furniture, a second with household goods, and an indoor area with tables of collectibles and smaller items. This is a premier hangout for junk hounds, professional buyers known as pickers, and amateur decorative arts historians. Open: year-round, Wednesday 9 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m., Maryland Routes 544 and 290, Crumpton, Md.; 410-928-3006.
DeBaggio Herbs grows and sells more than 300 varieties of culinary, medicinal and ornamental herbs. After 24 years in business, Tom DeBaggio is known for his basil, rosemary and lavender, but he also offers more exotic herbs, such as pineapple sage and rose geranium. Open: March 13 through June 26, Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 923 N. Ivy St., Arlington (703-243-2498), and 43494 Mountain View Dr., Chantilly (703-327-6976); the Chantilly location is also open July 2 through 31, Fridays and Saturdays.
At Susanna Farm Nursery, the staff isn't always there, but customers are welcome to come and look through the grounds anyway. Susanna Farm carries unusual evergreens, along with Japanese maples -- a few hundred varieties of plants on a 300-acre farm. With its three ponds, it looks less like a nursery than a landscaping showcase. And if you find something you'd like to take home, there's a big bell you can ring to get attention. Open: March through December, Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 17700 White Ground Rd., Boyds; 301-972-7513 (call ahead on weekdays)..