By Joshua M. Freedman
Special to The Sentinel
GLENMONT – Brookside Gardens, located within Wheaton Regional Park, celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 12 with numerous speakers and refreshments to kick off the commemoration.
The celebration also included time for attendees to explore the grounds and visit the Wings of Fancy Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit – which usually requires ticketed admission – for free.
Brookside Gardens opened in 1969 and offers more than 50 acres of spacious fields, luscious flowers, educational activities and a butterfly house. In attendance at the celebration were more than 100 visitors and staff members. Many of the attendees had worked on the grounds as volunteers in the past.
Local officials from the Montgomery County Council Parks Department and representatives from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office spoke during the celebration.
First to speak was Mike Riley, the director of Montgomery Parks, who discussed the history of Brookside Gardens and all it has to offer. Brookside was originally intended to be a “conservatory for flower shows,” explained Riley. Since 1969, the gardens have greatly grown in acreage and offerings.
“(Since its founding) the gardens have expanded a great deal,” Riley said. “In the past two years, we’ve had the fortune to open a new growing greenhouse and transform the visitors’ parking lot into a garden gateway.”
Riley went on to say that Brookside Gardens is internationally recognized and is continuing to grow.
During the ceremony, Brookside Gardens received several citations from officials, such as County Executive Marc Elrich, the Maryland General Assembly and Amanda Allen, representing Gov. Hogan.
A recurring theme throughout the ceremony was that Brookside Gardens is extremely inclusive. Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who also serves as the council’s lead for parks, noted during his remarks that parks like Brookside Gardens should be for everyone.
“This really is a place for everybody, reflective of our community, and today represents that,” he said. “Not just in who has joined us today, but we have suits here, we have flip-flops here, we have shorts here, we have hiking attire here [and] business attire here. We have something for everyone, and that’s what parks should be.”
Casey Anderson, who serves as the chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board, also addressed the way a garden can bring people together.
“A lot of people think that this is a great facility because of the flowers, and some people think it’s great because of the butterflies, other people love the garden of lights (during the winter months). But for me, what makes Brookside Gardens special is what makes any park special, which is the ability to bring people together,” Anderson said. “Before there was Match.com or Meetup or the internet, there were public spaces like parks, where people got together and places like Brookside Gardens bring together people who love all those things like flowers and butterflies and the lights.”
“No matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it here,” Elrich said after detailing his trips to the garden with dates when he was a student at the University of Maryland.
The 50th-anniversary ceremony was packed with members of the community who value and often have volunteered at the gardens. Barbara Waite-Jaques, a member of the Friends of Brookside Gardens organization, said that she has been involved in Brookside Gardens almost since its opening day and volunteered in one of its two conservatories.
“I have been invested in Brookside Gardens practically since it opened through volunteering and now serving on the board (of the Friends of Brookside Gardens),” she said. She also noted all the different people that enjoy Brookside Gardens. “When I come here (to visit) there is always such diversity, I often hear five or more languages being spoken.”
Gail Waibel also attended the celebrations. She noted that when she and her husband, Klaus, volunteer on the garden grounds, they often don’t see many other volunteers gardening at the same time. So, It was nice to see the show of support for Brookside Gardens from other volunteers, she said.
At the end of the ceremony, Stephanie Oberle, Brookside Gardens’ director, noted there are plans to continue the growth of the park. There is a 15-phase master plan already underway, which will renovate and improve the structure of the land. The gardens are currently in phase five, according to Oberle.
The gardens already received a new entrance to the grounds along with a parking lot garden as well. The parking lot improvements included pervious paving which allows for better water runoff. Phase five of the master plan includes the installation of a new greenhouse, according to Montgomery County Parks.
“All of our stories here weave together to make this beautiful place,” Oberle said. “We’re looking forward to another 50 years of Brookside Gardens.”
Elle Meyers contributed to this article.