Arriving at the Brookside Gardens visitor center entrance, I was amazed by the sheer beauty and color of the place. In the visitor center, a monthly art gallery showcased paintings by Bill Johnson and Amanda Coelho. The vividness and abstractness I saw in Bill's art gave a sense of wonder and curiosity. Within Amanda’s art there was a strong tone of realism. A piece by Amanda that compelled me was Prismatic Persimmons, depicting delicious persimmons I could almost taste.
Shortly after enjoying the “taste" of the persimmons piece I talked to Jessica, a wellness and advancement programs specialist at Brookside. Jessica explained a program new to Brookside called Strolls For Well-Being. The original program was for those with trauma, but now has a wider variety of participants. The eight-week program draws on psychological principles such as mindfulness as well as popular nature practices like forest bathing (shinrin-yoku), and is a balm for anyone who is struggling with difficult questions, suffering from stress or trauma, or otherwise seeking greater peace and fulfillment in their life. Those involved in the programs have shown improvement of mental health and wellbeing when finishing the program.
Jessica, who studied social work and public health in graduate school and worked as a therapist before coming to Brookside Gardens, is collaborating with mental health and other local organizations to make the program widely accessible to the community.
Monarch butterfly amongst asters, Chris Orozco photo
Once out of the visitor center, the Gude garden path greeted me with a corridor of rhododendron, Weston's lemon drop azalea and white wood aster, amongst a plethora of other species. I traversed some of the HeartSmart Trail, a one-mile path that encourages healthy living.
Wandering toward the Japanese Tea House, I felt comforted while surrounded by trees. Numerous trees had identification tags, such as the Japanese maple and five-needle pine. Sitting in the Japanese Tea House, the sound swishing of water caused by nearby red-eared sliders caught my attention. The teahouse can seat many people comfortably, with multiple benches in the covered pavilion.
Adjacent is a stone walking path with multiple plant species native to Japan. Jessica had given me a “Strolls for Well Being” book which I opened to reflect on life's joy, sadness, and complexity. I’ve journaled quite a bit, but having a direction and being able to write outdoors next to the pond gave a heightened sense of focus that I don't usually experience.
Red eared sliders basking on a rock, Chris Orozco photo
Continuing on the one-mile path, I decided to change course and go to the Fragrance, Perennial, Yew, Rose, Trial and Butterfly Gardens. I started at the Rose section where there were an ample amount of roses with quirky names like: Livn’ easy™ , Julia Child ™ , and Hotel California. While appreciating the roses, I was reminded that many gardens have entrance costs, while Brookside Gardens is more accessible to all with free access and proximity to public transit. Continuing to enjoy the smell, I moseyed over to the fragrance garden which tends to be my favorite section in gardens. My nose lead me to the spotted cranesbill which had a very sweet scent. I was entranced by the velvety, blue-hued flowers of Catalina® Midnight Blue wishbone flower.
Perennial Garden, Margaret Lasher photo, courtesy Maryland DNR
Leaving the Fragrance Garden I wanted to check out a portion of the garden with many international species, the Conservatory Area. The Conservatory Area has many interesting species including: Madagascar palm, lipstick palm, bird of paradise flower, and Abutilon Biltmore Ballgown. Being from Florida where I saw palms daily, I was surprised to see a palm with such a bright red trunk, the lipstick palm.
Bird of paradise flower, Chris Orozco photo
Redvein Abutilon, photo by Chris Orozco
I veered back to the Trial Garden and was amazed at the abundance and variety of flora. As the name suggests, this garden has flowers that may one day be included in other sections of Brookside.
At the end of the day I was unable to see the entire garden, but I hope this gives you an inkling of the beauty of Brookside. The scents, easy accessibility, and enormous variety of plants make a visit to Brookside very special.