By Extension Master Gardener Elaine Mills
Photos by Elaine Mills
July 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Brookside Gardens, the award-winning public garden situated within Wheaton Regional Park in Montgomery County, Md., about 45 minutes from Arlington. The original garden of 25 acres was built on the former site of Stadler Nursery and consisted of three formal gardens, a gazebo, and a conservatory. In his design, landscape architect Hans Hanses was inspired by the European concept of garden rooms as exemplified by Longwood Gardens, but he created them on a smaller scale.
Today, Brookside Gardens encompasses 54 acres, of which 32 acres are cultivated gardens. The grounds are maintained by 14 horticulturalists, plus career and seasonal staff, and more than 650 volunteers. Over 400,000 people visit each year. Formal gardens, which date from 1969, consist of a series of distinct rooms linked by a flagstone walkway that leads to the Wedding Gazebo on the hillside. The Perennial Garden uses tree wisterias, jasmine, buddleia, and Prunus species for structure with a seasonal progression of herbaceous perennials. Water lilies and other aquatic plants are added to the central pool in the summer. The Yew Garden, a room enclosed within clipped yew hedges, features a mix of annuals, tropicals, and other tender plants in a mixed border of bright and bold colors. The Maple Terrace illustrates interplanting with a succession of flowering bulbs whose fading foliage and flowers are masked by a summer ground cover of blue leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides).
Adjacent to these three aligned gardens are several other distinct garden rooms. The Fragrance Garden highlights fragrant trees, shrubs, and vines along with seasonally-changing central beds of spring bulbs and perennials from the mint, celery, lily, peony, pink, and phlox families, among others. The geometrically arranged Rose Garden presents 1,000 plants of 100 varieties from June through September, including many All-America rose selections. The design includes reflecting pools, sitting nooks, and a shaded pergola. The Trial Garden consists of six asymmetrically curved beds arranged along a serpentine path. Thousands of spring flowering bulbs are followed by beds that host changing themes, such as vegetables, low-maintenance plants, and annuals from the All-American Selections Program.
Located near these gardens are two glass-covered conservatories. The new Joan and John O’Rourke Greenhouse houses a tropical plant collection and seasonal plant displays and employs an advanced computerized greenhouse system with multiple temperature zones, allowing Brookside to propagate and grow many of its own plants. The smaller Fritz Greenhouse, built in 1976, is used for special shows such as the annual Wings of Fancy live butterfly and caterpillar exhibit. On the west side of the conservatories, the outdoor Butterfly Garden provides a warm and sunny habitat of native and cultivated plants supporting the butterfly life cycle from May through late fall.
Brookside Gardens also encompasses several large areas with more naturalistic plantings. The Aquatic Garden spotlights various water-loving plants on the banks of two ponds. These are overlooked by the Anderson Pavilion on a small island in the upper pond. The Azalea Garden is a semi-wooded area with a network of paved and mulched paths. It features a wide variety of shrubs and shade-tolerant perennials in mass plantings that create a long bloom sequence from mid-April through Memorial Day.
The Gude Garden, installed in 1972 as a memorial to prominent nurseryman Adolph Gude, Sr., consists of a Japanese-style landscape of soft rolling hills and ponds with a teahouse on an island. The design by Hans Hanses is intended to emphasize the harmonious balance of land, water, and specimen trees. Other naturalistic garden areas include the Camellia Garden, the Viburnum Garden, and the Winter Garden. Finally, the Woodland Walk, which leads to the Brookside Nature Center, highlights the existing forested wetland with bald cypress and tulip poplar canopy trees, an understory of spicebush, and a ground cover layer of mayapple, ferns, and skunk cabbage.
In a special Children’s Garden, young people are invited to take a virtual tour of Maryland from the ocean to the mountains. Educational signage describes the natural history, flora, and fauna of each geographic region of the state, while visitors pretend to climb mountain boulders, work on a farm in the Piedmont, and go boating along the coast.
50th Anniversary Year Initiatives
During its 50th anniversary year, Brookside Gardens is celebrating a variety of green initiatives. The garden carts are electric, reducing odors and air pollution, and other vehicles are powered by biofuel (an ethanol mix). All the green waste is composted and reused as a nutrient-rich addition to the soil. Many garden beds include native plants that provide support for the local wildlife. Staff recycled plastic bottles as “trash art” in a whimsical display that educates the public about plastic pollution.
Two other major examples of sustainable gardening are the Rain Garden and the Parking Garden. The Rain Garden replaced an earlier Rock Garden in 2007 to correct localized drainage issues and serve as an environmental demonstration for the public. Trees, shrubs, and perennials were specifically chosen to help hold and filter water, preventing flooding from the hillside. More recently, as a major step in the garden’s 15-phase master plan, the parking lot was rebuilt to incorporate better storm water management. Permeable pavers and bioswales of densely planted native perennials and grass species work together with a nearby hillside meadow to collect and filter rain water before it flows into the ponds in the Aquatic Garden.
While the core function of Brookside Gardens is scientific, staff also recognize the importance of well-being to visitors. To demonstrate the benefit of nature to wellness, staff installed a labyrinth for meditation near the peaceful Japanese-themed Gude Garden. A Heart-Smart Trail with embedded distance markers runs for six-tenths of a mile from the Visitors Center to the conservatories, encouraging exercise and mindfulness. Intimate seating areas for relaxation and enjoyment of the views can be found throughout the garden.
The Visitors Center houses classrooms, a horticultural reference library, and a gift shop.
Classes, camps, art shows, concerts, and the annual Friends of Brookside plant show are offered here and at other locations throughout the garden. A favorite winter event at Brookside is the Garden of Lights, a half-mile light show that runs from around Thanksgiving to the beginning of January. Brookside Gardens also hosts an annual Green Matters Symposium, described as “the intersection of horticulture and the environment,” with such renowned speakers as Dr. Doug Tallamy.
- Gardens: sunrise – sunset daily
Visitors Center: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Conservatories: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- 1800 Glenallan Avenue
Wheaton Regional Park
Wheaton, MD 20902
- Visitor Center Front Desk: