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Fall…Into Brookside Gardens

Labor Day is behind us, the kids are back at school, football season has started, the World Series is within sight, pools are closing, the sun is setting earlier and yet? So far, September still feels a whole lot like summer. Some of the stores might have Halloween candy out (in fact, some department stores have already leapt ahead with Christmas displays) and cooler weather clothing will, in the coming weeks, probably come out of hiding but still, it doesn’t quite feel like it’s time to think about nature’s transition into another season. With September’s Full Moon appearance on the 16th (known as the Harvest Moon and in some cultures, The Long Night’s Moon) and the autumnal equinox coming up on the 22nd, I keep expecting to see pumpkins, gourds and other fall seasonal delights This is a time of the year when I still yearn for the summer’s vibrancy and look at my garden and see some color yet it’s hard to ignore the withering plants and wonder where the summer has gone. August has been cruel with heat, little rain and oppressive humidity. As the seasons change, NOW is a fabulous time to explore the beautiful public (and private) gardens – no matter where you live – and see the remaining beauty of Summer and the spectacular, unique and unexpected sights of Fall.

In the DC Metro area, we have a number of fabulous gardens to explore:  River Farm. Ladew Topiary Gardens, McCrillis Gardens, Meridian Hill Park, Dumbarton Oaks Park, Green Spring Gardens, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and each holds a unique feeling. Because McCrillis and Locust Grove are close to my home, I visit them often and am very familiar with each path. I know Locust Grove’s Native Garden and have enjoyed watching it evolve over the seasons. Its’ natural beauty and meandering trails are accessible, peaceful and always provide spectacular views. McCrillis, too, is a natural, serene setting and in my opinion, it is beautiful year round but many flock to it in the spring for their tremendous inventory of azaleas. Over this past weekend, my husband and I decided to walk through Brookside Gardens (www.brooksidegardens.org) in Wheaton, Maryland because we haven’t been there since their recent extensive renovations and needed a glimpse of whatever summer color remained and experience those unique senses so specific to this season.

Simply driving into the parking lot – before you even go down any of the trails or explore the multitude of diverse, themed gardens, this is what you are treated to:

After going through the Visitor Center and entering the grounds, it’s immediately apparent that Brookside’s attention to detail encompasses just about everything from seating . . .


. . . to how the gardens are organized. Whether you’re in search of gardens highlighting native plants, intrigued by the Fragrance Garden, Aquatic Garden, Rain Garden, Butterfly Garden, Trial Garden and/or more, Brookside has it. It also has two Conservatories and programs year round. There’s is no “best” time to explore Brookside’s 50 acres – it’s a place with year round interest and unique beauty, events and activities. For those who only go to Brookside during the winter holidays for their amazing Festival of Lights, I encourage you to continue the tradition and add another season to the roster. No matter when you go, you’ll be delighted and there’s so much to explore.

There were a few areas I thought were particularly well done and original, starting with the “outdoor school” garden. Even more exciting? It was filled with excited families exploring the area, aware that through nature, all can be taught (and learned). The area is designated by this sign:

img_3171and surrounded by a white picket fence. Inside there are separate “subject” areas, such as math, music and science, using plants and decorative objects to unify the “lesson plan. As we wandered through the area – (we brought the average age UP a few years but we didn’t mind) – we, too, were engrossed in the day’s lessons. The explosions of color and use of a little stage area, quotes on signs and groupings of plants to attract and identify pollinators excite a student of any age:


Exiting the Outside School we entered, appropriately, a vignette garden dedicated to COCKTAILS!!! We were greeted by a succulent covered figure carrying cocktail glasses in her hand:


The Cocktail Garden is an appealing way to display plants that can easily be grown in your garden and used in your kitchen. The display (pictured below) shows how cleverly plants can be identified and better yet? Recipes are available for visitors. It was fun exploring those beds and seeing not only what kinds of plants can be used for consumption, but just how beautiful they are in a garden setting. In fact, many of them, such as lavender and mint, are things you probably already grow. Brookside includes some more unique ingredients, such as Meyer lemons and jalepenos, and the point was well made: think about how you can use plants in your garden for aesthetic as well as practical purposes. It doesn’t have to be one or the other:


Leaving the Cocktail Garden to explore new areas brings the eye to so many exceptional sites: the thistle growing in a bed of brilliant textures and colors (nice of the swallowtail to pose on that thistle, wasn’t it?), beds of blooms with so many colors it looked like an Impressionist painting and areas clearly transitioning to a new season and proudly displaying the beauty of seed pods and changes in the coloring of leaves:


Wandering through Brookside was a beautiful reminder that certain crocuses do bloom in the autumn, that sedum and roses can entwine and coexist beautifully and that containers can be exciting:


Brookside’s displays of unique fountains, paths, a gingko themed canopy can be enjoyed while looking at the plants surrounding a body of water or crossing a bridge over aquatic gardens. Said differently? By wandering through such a beautifully planned and well thought out garden, it’s clear that whether one is planting a garden bed, figuring out what to place in a container or adding elements for visitors to sit for a break, they can co-exist perfectly, reinforce nature’s theme and unique beauty and, in fact, be functional, too.


As we walked under the beautiful purple plant covered arches to make our way to the exit, I couldn’t help but find exceptional beauty only found this time of the year – seeing the seed pods and other changes in plants reminded me not only to enjoy the season we’re currently in, but that now is a time with a whole lot of hints about what’s yet to be explored:


by Emily Stashower, Behnke’s Guest Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Loved the blog on Fall.. into Brookside. The cocktail garden is so interesting. Another adventure for my bucket list.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Betty. The Cocktail Garden is an amazing site with the server, cocktails in hand, covered in succulents. Each planting is cleverly labeled and recipes are in the Visitor’s Center. Definitely put it on your cocktail – oops, I mean BUCKET – list!

  3. What a clever way to educate students, and a great way to intoxicate adults with the joys of gardening. I would not mind a mojito garden of my own!

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