— Nothing makes me gladder that I live in the Northeast than the early blooms of spring. While I don’t mind winter, its bleak but often beautiful landscape is magically transformed starting in March when everything goes from monotones to Technicolor in just the blink of an eye.
If you happen to be in the Capital region this time of year, I’d suggest a visit to Brookside Gardens in Wheatland, Md., a few miles north of the Washington Beltway, to experience the enchantments of spring. Not only does this award-winning, 50-acre public display garden have a fair share of flowering cherry trees, visitors will also find among the April blooms azaleas, crabapples, daffodils, dogwood, grape hyacinths, magnolias, quince, purple-leaf plum, redbud, tulips and viburnums.
The gardens take their name from the streams that flow around three-quarters of the periphery of the park-like setting that first opened in July 1969. Two ponds dot the property, and, along its banks, water-loving plants like Japanese iris thrive in eyesight of a graceful gazebo, located on the edge of the Azalea Garden.
During my visit, a border collie named Emmie, trained to chase away the unwanted Canadian geese without hurting them, ran along the pond banks earning her keep with obvious enjoyment.
At Brookside, visitors can stroll through a total of five formal gardens (perennials, yews, roses, maples, even plants that exude fragrance during the yearly growing cycle).
In 1972, a Japanese-style garden complete with a teahouse overlooking the ponds was dedicated to Adloph Gude, Sr., a local nurseryman who donated many of the garden’s collection of trees and shrubs.
There’s also a Trial Garden that sports 10,000 flowering bulbs in spring, followed by summer displays of new and unusual plant varieties and imaginative design ideas, and a new Rain Garden, installed in 2008, that’s filled with native plants that collect storm runoff and filter out pollutants.
"We’ve always been a strong advocate of sustainability, and much of what we do has a green message," McDermott said.
Brookside also offers a series of free lectures that bring in top name speakers from the horticulture world such as Doug Tallamy, professor and author of "Bringing Nature Home," who’s scheduled to speak on April 26. In the summer, Brookside holds a series of outdoor concerts each Tuesday evening in June and, in September, stages an annual Children’s Day with a mix of educational and fun family-friendly activities.
One of my favorite features of the garden is its Heart Smart Trail, roughly a mile- long, hard-surface pathway that encourages a healthier lifestyle through walking. Every 1/10 of a mile, bronze medallions embedded in the path let walkers keep track of their distance.
Along with a Visitor Center, Brookside has two adjoining conservatories full of seasonal displays. The North house has permanent tropical plants with seasonal accent plantings while the South house is dedicated to seasonal plantings.
With an annual attendance of around 400,000, one of the busiest times of the year comes during its Wings of Fancy exhibit in the two conservatories that features live exotic butterflies from Costa Rica, Asia, North America and occasionally Africa. This year’s event is scheduled from May 4 through Sept. 22. While admission to Brookside Gardens is free of charge, admission to the Wings of Fancy Display is $6 for adults, $4 for children 3 t0 12.
Oddly enough, winter is also a busy season for Brookside when more than a million LED lights arranged in unique nature-based or whimsical shapes fill the gardens with light along a half mile walkway. The Garden of Lights runs this year from the end of November through the beginning of January.
Even the dead of winter has its charms. Beside a therapeutic tranquillity, visitors can find interesting plants such as red bark dogwood, holly and early flowers like Lenten rose, snowdrops, winter jasmine and witch hazel.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If You’re Going . . .
Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, Md. For more information, phone 301-962-1400 or visit website www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside.
For information on other attractions in the area, phone 877-789-6904 or www.visitmontgomery.com.