Silver Spring, Maryland
Locals might dismiss Brookside Gardens as a glorified neighborhood park filled with mothers pushing strollers around a lakeside gazebo with some geese thrown in for good measure. After being dragged there numerous times as a child, I shared this view of Brookside and took for granted the fact it was so close by. It wasn’t until I returned later in life that I could really appreciate these gorgeous gardens. Surrounding the main conservatory are various specialized gardens, which change with the seasons and are meticulously maintained. I enjoy the contrast of formal gardens with the looser plantings of azalea and other floral surprises throughout the semi-wooded property.
Brookside truly comes alive in the spring and early summer. The Azalea Garden is really worth timing a visit in late April when the whole hillside above the conservatories bursts forth with masses of color. The long arbor bordering the rose garden is hung heavily with wisteria and, when in full bloom, is absolute paradise to sit under and take in the intoxicating aroma. There are some times of year when huge swaths of tulips bloom in open areas, which are a dazzling sight to behold.
The two large ponds that make up the Aquatic Garden are surrounded by Japanese irises and plantings of daffodils in the spring. Some of this area is currently closed off due to recent construction but I have found that there is still so much of the property to explore it doesn’t damper the experience.
The two conservatories are modest in size but crammed full of tropical delights, bridges, a stream, and even a small waterfall. During some parts of the year one of the greenhouses is transformed into an interactive butterfly exhibit. But it is the wide open spaces of green grass, gentle hills, meandering pathways, and wooded-serenity that make Brookside unique: it is something like a grand garden with a park attached.
My favorite section is the Formal Gardens, a set of garden “rooms” connected by a flagstone pathway that line up in view of the Wedding Gazebo, dramatically flanked by rows of holly trees. Apparently this section was once the central focus of the gardens along with the conservatories and the Azalea Walk. These proper gardens feel removed from the rest due to the stone walls and tall hedges of clipped yew, which create a distinctly tranquil ambiance.
Final Rating: Brookside is a wonderful local treasure that offers so much for visitors of all kinds from stroller-pushing mothers and joggers to garden enthusiasts, photographers, and bird watchers. The grounds are spread out with so many different sections that it never feels too terribly crowded and there is always some grassy nook or out of the way bench to settle into when you can take it all in. The hardworking staff is constantly updating and rearranging the gardens so there is always something new to see and each season has its own blooming highlights. It is impressive that such a first-class garden is hidden right in our own backyards and is free to enjoy. FOUR BLOOM RATING