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Brookside Gardens celebrated as a county treasure –

by Audrey Partington

Special to The Greater Olney News

As the nation marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the landing on the moon, a golden anniversary celebration took place closer to home for a Montgomery County landmark.

Brookside Gardens in Wheaton Regional Park opened in July 1969, exactly one week before the moon landing.

Five decades later, Brookside Gardens has more than doubled to 54 acres, with 32 acres of cultivated gardens. Its 29 staff members and 1,000 volunteers greet almost a half million visitors annually.

The facility offers permanent and short-term displays, two conservatories and hosts popular seasonal events, including the Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly and Caterpillar exhibit and the winter Garden of Lights.

In addressing the crowd at the July 12 celebratory event, Montgomery Parks Department Director Mike Riley said, “In its 50 years, Brookside Gardens has made a significant mark on our community, leading the way in horticulture, environmental stewardship education and, of course, creating special moments in people’s lives. In today’s increasingly busy, distracted world, it’s so important to have places where you can be grounded, reflect and energize.”

County Councilman Will Jawando (D-At large) echoed those sentiments.

“It’s such a great place, whether it’s bringing my children to see the butterflies or the winter lights, or just walking around to clear my mind,” he said. “It brings the community together.”

Added County Councilman Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1): “It’s a place where memories have been made and special moments have occurred, even marriages.”

A number of special gardens were planted to mark the occasion. With support from Friends of Brookside Gardens, 50,000 golden daffodils were planted “in sunny recognition of the role the park plays in the lives of almost half a million visitors each year.”

A “Psychedelic Garden,” with brightly colored flowers and foliage — some that may cause an altered state of mind — is meant to evoke “the mind-bending 1969 psychedelic sub-culture.”

Plans for Brookside Gardens began in 1965, when the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission approved a portion of Wheaton Regional Park for an arboretum. Landscape architect Han Hanses was commissioned to develop the original design, which incorporated many European concepts from his training in Germany and Switzerland.

The initial grounds consisted of three formal gardens leading to a Wedding Gazebo, an Azalea Walk, plantings around the entrance and a Conservatory, which housed office space, a horticultural library and a plant propagation area.

The Gude Garden and Japanese Tea House were dedicated in 1972 by former U.S. Congressman Gilbert Gude (R-Dist. 8), who had also served in the state House and Senate, in honor of his father, Adolph Gude.

William and Virginia McCrillis donated McCrillis Gardens in 1978. The Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly Exhibit and the Garden of Lights both opened in 1997. A year later, the Visitors Center opened, thanks to a generous donation from Elizabeth Turner.

In 2002, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a multi-decade Master Plan for Brookside Gardens to be implemented with support from private donations.

Completed in 2016, the first phase featured the renewal of the main entrance and the new state-of-the-art production greenhouse, supported by a donation from Friends of Brookside Gardens founding president Joan O’Rourke.

The second phase includes expanding the parking lot, and phase three will feature ornamental plantings on the banks of the two streams that act as boundaries for the arboretum.

“As we look forward to the next 50 years, I am excited by the possibilities of the future growth of Brookside Gardens both within our traditional services, but also in new directions like green jobs for youth, well-being for all and nurturing connections to plants and to each other,” said Stephanie Oberle, director of Brookside Gardens.

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