Friday, November 22, 2013

Behind A Garden Wall: Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, Maryland

Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland is a pleasant place we return to often. Set on 54 acres surrounded by woodland, you hardly know you are surrounded by the insane busyness that characterizes the suburbs of Washington, DC. It's no surprise, then, that it's a popular place for quiet walks, reflection, observation, nature and horticultural studies. Don't be put off by the garden wall and the tall fence. They keep deer out.

Japanese Tea House, Gude Garden, Brookside Gardens

Brookside Gardens was opened in 1969 after four years of planning and development by the Maryland‑ National Capital Park and Planning Commission as part of the Wheaton Regional Park system. The Gardens are located on a site formerly owned by Stadler Nursery. At that time, Brookside Gardens occupied only 25 acres, and consisted of a conservatory, three formal gardens, a wedding gazebo and an azalea garden. Some original plants from the Stadler Nursery collection still thrive.

Wedding gazebo, Brookside Gardens
Beginning in 1972, Brookside Gardens was developed further to include the Fragrance Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Gude Garden with its prominent Japanese Tea House and vistas. The Gude Garden honors another area nurseryman, Adolph Gude. It was dedicated by his son, U.S. Congressman Gilbert Gude (Republican). Rep. Gude worked in his father's nursery for many years, so had a lot of interest in horticultural and environmental issues.

The Visitors Center, made possible by a generous donation, was opened in 1998. It houses an information desk, library, classrooms, auditorium, gift shop and offices. Unless you only intend to see the Conservatory, this is the place to begin your visit. More parking is available near the Visitors Center than elsewhere.

Chrysanthemum Craftsmanship display, Brookside Gardens
 Major events at Brookside Gardens include the fall Chrysanthemum Craftsmanship display in the Conservatory. The 2013 display continues until November 25. There is no admission fee. Chrysanthemum enthusiasts will enjoy seeing all types of chrysanthemum flower forms including various incurves, pompons, spider types and more chrysanthemum forms.

The Garden of Lights Winter Walk-through Holiday Light Display begins late November and continues into the first week of January. There's an evening entrance fee of $20 or $25 per car. Weekend visits cost most. For those who don't like being in cramped cars stuck in slow traffic for interminable drive-through light displays, this is the way to go. If the cold gets to you, duck into the warm Conservatory to enjoy the Winter Display and Model Train Exhibit.

We return to Brookside Gardens often because there's so much to see in every season. Winter's snow sometimes mantles the gardens with frozen silence. But even if there's no snow, the stark outlines and earthy colors are appealing. Organic patterns and textures are more easily seen and appreciated in winter. Red ilex berries and yellow tree fruits pop against drab background colors. So do the scarlet lines of dogwood stems in winter.

Spring brings reticulated iris, crocuses, lenten roses, early-flowering rhododendrons and flowering trees. Even though the weather can be nippy and patches of snow remain, spring brings so much promise with it.


Summer at Brookside Gardens, of course, is a riot of colorful annuals and perennials, glossy ground covers, wonderful things growing behind garden walls and spilling over them. Japanese maple seeds glow in the sun. Containers are packed with bold displays of cannas. The Wings Of Fancy Butterfly Exhibit flutters with activity.

Fall at Brookside Gardens descends with a blaze of glory. Wonderful colors, like these of Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park', and tracery of Schizophragma hydrangoides cover walls. Then the cycle begins again.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Brookside Gardens

Regardless of the season, the Conservatory is always a pleasure to visit. It houses many of my favorites such as Cymbidium orchids, Heliconia, and Clerodendrum.

Heliconia angusta 'Holiday'
Gardeners who follow All-America Selections can view AAS Flower Winners at Brookside Gardens, for Brookside has the distinction of being an AAS Display Garden. Interested gardeners can view the newest AAS winners in person.

This is a link to Brookside Gardens web site to get directions, learn more, and help you plan your visit.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Is it okay to plant cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather?

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Q. Is it okay to plant cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather?

A. It is okay to plant some cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather. Here are some things you must consider:
  • Whether the soil is workable. If your soil is frozen solid, you shouldn't try planting. If it is soft but too wet, don't try planting. You can test whether it's too wet by squeezing a fist full of dirt. If water squeezes out, it's too wet. If the soil tends to crumble, it's okay to plant.
  • Whether the plants you have in mind are reliably or marginally cold-hardy for your area. If they are only marginally cold-hardy, hold off planting until the following spring when danger of frost is past. 
  • Though the plant seems dormant, the roots are growing below even when the top is not. By planting early, the perennials will be more established summer arrives. If the plants are reliably cold-hardy, they may be planted during freezing weather.
  • Whether the plants still have tender new growth, or have hardened off. Perennials in an active growing state are more susceptible to cold damage. Those that have entered dormancy should survive freezing temperatures.
Be sure to water your perennials after planting. Watering will help to settle the soil around the roots. Water also possesses an insulating quality.

For good measure, apply a 3 inch layer of mulch around your plants. The mulch will also help to insulate them from severe cold.

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