In Asia, some embroidery factories have courtyard flower gardens, where workers may rest their eyes and refresh their spirits before returning to their tedious jobs.

In Maryland, the state highway department is planting beds of wildflowers that may offer the same relief to road-weary motorists.

This year so far, there have been patches of red poppies, riotous pink cosmoses and exotic yellow lance-leaf coreopsis, to name only a few varieties planted across the state.

If the recently stepped-up program got you through a bad morning on I-95, you have Maryland's flower fellow to thank.

"It's like a little splash of color in your peripheral vision," said Bruce Knott, landscape specialist for the state highway department and the person in charge of the roadside plantings.

The program began several years ago, but it's become more visible now that Knott has learned a thing or two about the subtleties of perennials and the hardiness of certain varieties.

A budget increase to $45,000 next year won't hurt either.

"It costs about $1,000 to do an acre," Knott said. "And the prices go up drastically sometimes -- New England Aster went to $212 a pound; we had to drop it."

The state has used seed mixes that cost more in the range of $22 to $27 per pound, said Knott, noting that 30 acres were seeded this spring and 16 acres will be planted this fall.

So far, the flower beds have sprouted up in median strips and along roadsides and overpasses in scattered spots on the state's highways. One planting, for example, was the bed of poppies and other flowers on the sloped bank below the rest stop on the south-bound side of I-95, just outside the Capitol Beltway. There was another bed in the I-95 median just south of Route 175, and an eight-acre planting on Route 32 near Shaker Drive in Howard County.

One of the oldest beds is a five-year-old patch in Queen Anne's County, a blend of daisies, coreopsis, black-eyed Susans and purple cone flower.

Right now there are mostly natural wildflowers -- black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, goldenrod, day lillies, asters -- that the state encourages by selectively reducing its mowing.

"Sometimes these {highway} crews don't get it," said Knott, "and they just cut it down when we're trying to get it to grow."

The idea of striving for a lusher, more natural look on the sides of state roads is apparently part of a national trend. Knott, who attended a roadside-vegetation conference, keeps track of which states are at the forefront of highway horticulture.

"North Carolina gets the most money. They fund it from {the sale of} personalized license plates," Knott said. "They had a budget of over $100,000," he added, in awe.

"Texas, of course, was the first. They did it 50 years ago," he said. "But it's harder here: We have more weed competition and woody growth competition."

When Knott plants, he first clears out the weeds with a herbicide, then lightly tills the soil, planting with a hand-cycling seeder. Planting is done in the spring and in the fall.

Knott said he learns something new every year. "You have to make sure the flowers you pick aren't too small, too inconspicuous. That's happened. And you have to do the right sort of blending to get a succession of color," he said. "There's pro and con about wildflowers."

Knott, whose father was a farmer on a private estate, has strong feelings about the species he works with. He seems to love saying their names, describing their qualities:

"There's gayfeather, a purple spike flower; plain's coreopsis, which is yellow with a red rust bloom; dame's rocket, a purple perennial. And in May, one of the first "You have to do the right sort of blending to get a succession of color. There's pro and con about wildflowers."

-- Bruce Knott

ones to come out is the evening primrose, a sort of pale yellow," said Knott, who studied ornamental horticulture at the University of Maryland.

He has become a kind of state reference person on wildflower planting. Private garden clubs call him up with requests for his wildflower mix or to get him to help plant in their area. Sometimes, people just call him for advice.

"A Lanham lady was looking for purple loosestrife. I think it's really wild and grows mostly in wet areas, duck habitats," he said. "So I'm writing to tell her I don't know where you could ever buy it."

Some of the plant lovers who admire Knott's work get a little carried away, or rather, they carry his work away. "I've seen out-of-staters photographing them. I've also seen holes where people have dug the plants out," Knott said. "Our counterparts in Pennsylvania had pictures of people putting flower plants into their trunks. I don't mind the small-scale stuff, a bouquet for your girlfriend, but people shouldn't haul it away."

Admirers of all sorts will have even more to admire next year. The "Entrance to the State" program calls for flowers to be positioned so they are the first thing an out-of-state motorist sees in Maryland.

Next year, look for flowers at the state borders on southbound I-83 and I-70 and eastbound Route 48.

"It's a little something to tell you you're coming into a nice state," Knott said.