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Brighton Dam Azalea Garden

Brighton Dam Azalea Garden
Brookeville, Maryland

One benefit of growing up in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. was proximity to the kind of winding country roads that are perfect for sunny-day joyrides through woody areas and farm fields alike. Even today, these back roads lead me to magical, mostly-unknown places like the Brighton Dam Azalea Garden, which is perched on the shores of Maryland’s Triadelphia Reservoir. Someone already familiar with the park areas around that impressive dam structure might not realize that every spring a riotous tidal wave of wild colors crashes down the hillsides in one of the most impressive azalea displays I have seen!

I had been to the garden several times many years back, but this time I wanted to make a special effort to catch the peak bloom. It is difficult to time a particular plant’s bloom, since it varies with things like fluctuating temperatures and even the location of the garden; DC tends to be a week or so ahead of Maryland with its generally-warmer temperatures. When I suspected that the time had come, I grabbed an hour before another engagement to stop and check on the azaleas, hoping my timing prediction was right. Luckily it was, and I felt like I had stumbled upon this garden for the first time all over again.

Thousands of bushes form a brightly colored topography that hovers slightly above the wooded hillsides, practically vibrating with the intensity of the colors. Some of the best views are had in the thick of the garden, on one of many inclines where you can gaze out, feeling you are adrift in a sea of flowers. There is a circular observation deck on one of the higher points that offers a 360-degree azalea panorama. I appreciated this detail, but preferred to wend my way through the narrow grassy pathways in between the dense plantings, immersed in floral abundance.

What makes the sight of these bushes in bloom so intense is that the plants were thoughtfully grouped in masses of a singular color, heightening the effect of each individual variety. Having had the years and care to grow to impressive heights, the azaleas create colorblocked mini-forests of individual types. There were a few patches where I saw fresh plantings, tiny bushes arranged in a loose grid that were eagerly aspiring to reach the height and density of their elder neighbors.

The garden was born from the initial ambition of one WSSC commissioner who, in the late 1950s, sought to beautify the land around the Triadelphia Reservoir with flowering bushes and trees. The wide-ranging collection includes some choice Glenn Dale azaleas, which were developed by the first acting director of the U.S. National Arboretum and famously named for a nearby Maryland town where they were first introduced especially for the region. Another highlight is the Mollis Azalea Hybrids section of deciduous azalea varieties, which bloom in intense shades of orange, yellow, and red with large blooms and long protruding stamens. The dogwood trees in shades of soft pink and bright white add to an already spectacular setting, their flowers gently floating above the clouds of colorful azaleas.

Final Rating: The Brighton Dam Azalea Garden is more like an experience than a simple garden visit. A once-a-year spectacle, it dazzles the senses with the sheer number of azaleas populating the hillsides of this picturesque waterside setting. I have to say, this garden even gives DC’s Arboretum some competition based purely on wow-factor (which is saying something, since the Arboretum boasts a huge azalea collection itself). The grouped colors of the 22,000+ flowering bushes makes the effect that much more striking. If you are anywhere in the DC/MD/VA area, this garden is worth the trip during peak bloom, which is usually predicted to be around Mother’s Day. Another added bonus I just discovered: elderly and disabled visitors are able to tour a good portion of the gardens by car on weekdays, which is especially helpful considering its hilly terrain. FOUR BLOOM RATING

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