I decided to write this blog as a Mother’s Day special — for all those looking for a lovely place to bring their mums! An overcast Saturday afternoon found us heading over to check out Brookside Gardens, in Wheaton, MD; I had my new macro lens in hand and was eager to experiment. Thunder bumper downpours threatened to ruin the afternoon but I was optimistic the rain would hold off for another hour or two (I was almost right). Just 30 minutes from my home in Ellicott City (and 45 minutes from Baltimore), I wondered to myself why I don’t go there more often.
An oasis in the midst of cluttered suburbia, pretty much anytime in spring or summer, the gardens are lovely. Today, the day before Mother’s Day, the profusion of early spring blooms — the tulips and bulb flowers, the cherry trees, magnolias, and dogwoods — were well over. But the azaleas (some 300 varieties) were peaking, the hostas leafed out, adding their subdued blues, dark greens and chartreuse to the lush green landscape (I love hostas), and the wisteria was in full bloom. I particularly enjoyed the water features — a series of striking fountains in the formal gardens.
Families with children were there — even on an afternoon that threatened huge downpours — as well as couples, old and young, enjoying the serenity. The place is popular for proposals and weddings.
Brookside Gardens is Montgomery County’s award-winning 50-acre public display garden
situated within Wheaton Regional Park. Included in the gardens are several distinct areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden (sadly, no where near in bloom when we visited), Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. The Formal Gardens areas include a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden. Brookside Gardens also features two conservatories for year-round displays; one of my favorite areas is the charming children’s garden with changing displays designed to encourage children to learn about plants and gardening.
While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for the black squirrels that are typical of the area. I’m used to their lighter grey brethren, in fact, a fat family of their light grey kin feed happily from my bird feeders. I find the black squirrels striking and unusual, but in fact, they used to be quite common, having been predominant throughout North America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, since their dark color helped them hide in old growth forests which tended to be very dense and shaded. As time passed, hunting and deforestation led to biological advantages for their light grey cousins. The grey squirrels apparently thrive in suburbia, so it’s nice to see the black squirrels having a population base at Wheaton Regional Park.
This year, the gardens are under construction, with a number of improvements planned. This means that the visitors center will be closed until close to the end of June. But even when it opens, the visitors center parking lot will be closed until November. There is plenty of other parking; check Brookside Gardens’ website for where to park. And don’t let this dissuade you from visiting this year — the construction is confined to one or two areas and most, if not all, of the formal gardens are unaffected by the construction. Did I mention that admission is free? It’s a low-risk venture with high rewards for a summer afternoon!
The first phase of the construction is the renewal of the Gardens’ main entrance to reinforce the visitors center as the heart of the gardens, thus creating a welcoming arrival with site-specific artwork and solving current safety issues. The second phase includes parking lot expansion and improved storm water management. Phase three will stabilize the banks of the two streams that act as boundaries for the Gardens, and allow for new ornamental plantings to take advantage of the charming stretches of water that affirm the name “Brookside Gardens.”
Getting there: 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902
Hours: Gardens: sunrise – sunset, visitors Center: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; conservatories: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; free admission.
Dogs: Pets are not allowed in Brookside Gardens. Service animals are welcome.
Updated May 2018.