Is it just me, or has this fall been especially beautiful? The scenery seems ablaze with golden yellow, fiery orange, and deep red as the foliage puts on its seasonal performance. Perhaps the general gloom of this past year makes the bright spots that much more vivid, or maybe Mother Nature just knows how much we need it right now.
The fam framed by fall foliage
It’s this autumn luster that brought us to Brookside Gardens this past weekend — well, coupled with a little photography agenda. We wanted to get out and enjoy the day before the rain came, someplace relaxing that would showcase the season. So, I checked the round-up of the best outdoor places for ideas (yep, I use my own blog!), and in one glance I knew where we were going: Brookside Gardens, the beautiful public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park in the Montgomery Parks system.
Owen, circa 2010
Owen, circa 2015
The lead image in that post, the one of oh-so-sweet, four-year-old Owen chilling in the tree, was taken at Brookside almost exactly 10 years ago. We recreated the photo when we happened to be back there five years later, so when I saw it again and did the math, I realized it was time for the next installment.
Paved paths traverse the gardens…
…as do leave strewn dirt trails
As those photos indicate, we’ve been enjoying Brookside Gardens for a long time. Along with an occasional fall visit, we usually go for the wonderful annual Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit and Garden of Lights holiday display, however, both were among the many beloved area events cancelled this year. But this autumn outing was lovely and serene and perfect for right now. Plus, we got that shot.
Owen at 14
Of course, we had to capture our best girl, too
Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, MD. Right now, the grounds are open to wander and enjoy daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center 10am – 2pm. The sweet Children’s Garden is not accessible during Covid. Along with the links above, read more about Brookside in this KFDC post.
And get more of a glimpse of the gorgeous fall in the pics below…
And it was all yellow
View from a gazebo
A serene pond scene
This pergola turns into a fab pink walkway during Garden of Lights
A visit to the Wings of Fancy exhibit at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, has become an annual tradition for us. The exhibit showcasing nearly 20 species of live butterflies and caterpillars from North America, South America, and Asia continues to delight, fascinate, educate, and challenge (more on that one in a sec) year after year.
It always opens in mid-spring and runs through the summer. Sasha, her friend Ingrid, and I finally made our 2017 trip out there a couple of days ago, and it was lovely as ever! The South Conservatory transformed into a beautiful butterfly garden, with the many varieties flitting about the colorful flowers and plants, feels kind of like a fairytale world (save for the heat, which is about 10 degrees warmer than outside). It’s mesmerizing to watch the many varieties fly around, land delicately on a flower, then flutter about again. There are also chrysalises and cocoons on display, and staff are around to offer insight about the butterflies and exhibit.
We all seemed to have some “goals” for our visit (that challenge I mentioned before): The girls were on a mission to have butterflies land on them (Sasha purposely chose her dress for it!) and would stand or sit still as they waited. I loved snapping photos, with an aim to capture their intricate wing patterns, the blue morph proving to be the most elusive.
Looks like the dress worked!
Of course, we spent time wandering around the rest of the grounds, too — Brookside is fantastic to visit any time of year — but the butterflies are just here through September 17. Admission is $8/adult, $5/child, free for 2 and under for the exhibit, and entry to Brookside Gardens is free. You can read more about Wings of Fancy and Brookside in this post about one of our previous experiences there. And you can get a glimpse of it all in these images… enjoy!
Just a couple of tree nymphs, hanging out chatting about life
A perfect spicebush swallowtail
Such gorgeous wing patterns
Easy to see how they got the “owl” name
ID the butterflies!
The best I could get of the blue morph
See the butterfly in the foreground that looks like a leaf?
Butterflies are a huge part of Sasha’s girly-girl repertoire. Right up there with princesses, Hello Kitty, unicorns, and pink. She squeals with earnest delight at the sight of anything pretty that flits delicately about, some of her favorite clothes are her “butterfly shirts,” and we’re getting ready to add decals of the dainty insects to her bedroom walls.
Suffice it to say, we have been looking forward to the “Wings of Fancy” exhibit at Brookside Gardens for awhile now. We would have visited earlier this summer had I not been waiting for Owen’s schedule to open up, so he could join us. Because even though a garden full of butterflies is the stuff Sasha’s fanciful dreams are made of, it’s also an enthralling sight for a nature lover like my boy. The timing actually worked out quite well, because Certifikid just debuted a deal for the exhibit, so we saved a few bucks on our outing, too.
Getting started in the Caterpillar Room
We finally headed over to Brookside and the butterflies this afternoon and it was truly worth the wait. Our visit started with an intro in the Caterpillar Room, where a staff member pointed out a few real caterpillars on plants, then showed us pictures of the butterflies they would become. From there, we entered the conservatory, where the first thing out of Sasha’s mouth was that squeal: “Look, butterflies!” Indeed.
One of many pretty sights
Eye to eye with a butterfly
Nearly 20 species of butterflies from North America, Central America, and Asia fluttered around us and the colorful flowers and plants throughout the greenhouse. We walked around every inch of it, trying to spot a species we hadn’t seen yet, watching them reveal different patterns as they opened their wings, and just staring in amazement at the sheer number of them.
Butterfly makes landing
Sasha liked looking for her favorite “pink and yellow” butterfly, while Owen kept hoping one would land on him. We stopped by a station where they could hold specimens that were no longer alive (staff told us they’re sterilized) and examine them through magnifying glasses. There are also cases containing cocoons, and when those butterflies hatch they’ll be released into the garden; we learned that a butterfly life is about two weeks long, so there is constant “turnover.”
Hands on in the garden
A really close look
Observing future butterflies
It’s pretty hot inside the exhibit, they say about 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This eventually took its toll, and we made our way out after about 30 minutes. But that wasn’t the end of our Brookside visit. We wandered the lovely grounds and, of course, had to stop by the Children’s Garden, where the kids played in the treehouse and hollowed out tree trunk/gnome hut.
The Children’s Garden
And we can’t go to Brookside without stopping by the turtle pond. The geese were hanging out, and they must be so used to people they let the kids get pretty close.
Strolling around the turtle pond
Who’s in for Duck Duck Goose?
From the gazebo over the pond, we watched the turtles and fish swim below, spotting all three snapping turtles (a small, medium, and large one) and many other kinds.
Too busy looking at turtles to notice the pretty view
A lovely afternoon, to say the least. We left feeling all aflutter. 🙂
Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, Md. Grounds are open daily from sunset to sundown. The Visitor Center is open from 9am -5pm, the conservatories from 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.
“Wings of Fancy” is running through September 16. Hours are 10am – 4pm, but be sure to make sure it’s open before you go, as it has closed early on very hot days. Admission is $6/adults, $4/ages 3-12, free for 2 and under. Certifikid currently has a deal for weekday admission for one adult and one child for $6.
All geared up with walking sticks for the 300-meter “trek” to the park’s Nature Center
It’s a small blogging world around here. And I experienced it firsthand on a visit to Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington a couple of weeks ago. I got the idea to go there from No Monsters in My Bed when a friend and I were looking for a new place to take our little ones to play outside on a nice day. Then, upon our arrival at the playground right next to the small parking area, I saw some familiar faces, adorable little ones that I recognized from Not-So-SAHM. It turned out their mom, Rebecca, and I both ended up at the park on the recommendation of Darcy (who writes No Monsters). What can I say… great minds think alike. 😉
Not only was it neat to run into one of my blogging compadres, it was also helpful — she had been there a while and gave me the lowdown on what to see and do at the park (read her review here), which included trail hikes and the Nature Center. Since the kids were already immersed in playground action, we hung out there before venturing further.
The playground is pretty simple — a small area containing a log tree house with a small climbing wall, a steep and fast slide, and a double slide; picnic tables; and a couple of random exercise apparatus — but it kept the kids entertained for quite awhile.
We finally convinced the kids to move on by asking them if they wanted to see some animals; we knew from talking to Rebecca that there were live (and alive-looking) creatures on exhibit at the Nature Center, just a 300-meter walk down the road from the playground.
Once inside, the kids immediately stopped to ogle an exhibit (not live) near the entrance. From there, we headed downstairs to see the turtles and snakes in terrariums before entering the Kids Cave, a small room full of hands-on nature-related activities.
Checking out an exhibit at the Potomac Overlook Park Nature Center
Hello, Mr. Snake
Kids in the Cave
When we left the Nature Center, we saw a sign for the live bird exhibit, so we walked up a short path to see a couple of owls and a hawk. A park ranger explained they had been rescued, but their injuries prevented them from being released back into the wild, so they’re now permanent residents of the park.
Wishing for pizza lunch!
By that time, we were all hungry and decided to head to nearby Italian Store (one of our all-time family faves!) and save a hike for another visit.
There definitely will be one, as Potomac Overlook is one to put on the go-to list for an easy and free outing, both outdoors and in.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park is located at 2845 N. Marcey Road in Arlington (directions here). Hours are 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday, and 1–5pm Sunday, closed on Monday.
For the last day of spring break, I decided to do something new with the kids: A visit to the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm. It wasn’t a new venture for lack of trying; we attempted the outing on a Sunday a couple of months ago, only to learn upon arrival that it’s not open on weekends October through March. So, with both kids home at the same time for the last day in awhile, we headed out to Alexandria to explore the grounds, gardens, and estate house of the AHS headquarters.
River Farm is located just off the GW Parkway on the way to Mount Vernon, right along the Potomac River. It’s quite easy to find as long as you keep an eye out for the turn off the Parkway (we missed it our first time out there). East Boulevard Drive leads right to the front gates, and from there you drive up a short road, loop around the orchard, then park in a small lot.
Right next to the lot is a teaching and demonstration garden, which also contains a donation box — admission to River Farm is free, but donations are welcome to help with operations and upkeep. After sliding our contribution through the slot, we followed a path that led to the lovely grounds behind the house and sweeping views of the Potomac.
Plenty of room to roam
I don’t know if it’s a consequence of being city kids or what, but when my children see open green space, they run. And that’s just what they did here. Sometimes it’s a problem, but in this case, it was perfectly fine. The lawn behind the house leads downhill to a low stone wall called the Ha-Ha Wall (I almost expected Nelson Muntz to pop his head up at any moment), and beyond that is a meadowy area traversed by grassy paths. Even though Owen and Sasha ran in separate directions, I could still see them both and knew they were safe as long as they didn’t run further down the hill to the river.
Getting the scoop on the gardens
When we all caught up with each other, we walked along the trails and read about the vegetation and plantings on signs posted around the area. Most of the flora seemed pretty dry right now — perhaps all those 70-degree March days took a toll — but it was still quite pretty and gloriously tranquil. After strolling through, we walked down to the river to take in the views for a bit.
Relaxing by the river
We finally made our way back up the hill to the kids’ favorite part — the Children’s Gardens. On the north side of the house, is a lovely area (not that the whole place isn’t lovely) with all kinds of mini gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature. There’s a little fort that kids can crawl under or over; the Boat Garden with a real row boat to climb aboard; a Little House on the Prairie Garden with – yup! – a little house to play in; and many more charming areas for kids to enjoy. And right next to it all are more gardens with beautiful flowers, plants, brick paths, and nice seating areas that would make a great picnic spot.
Row, row, row your garden boat…
Space to relax and play
Owen and Sasha played there awhile, joining a group of children who were frolicking (never has this word seemed more apropos, thanks to the delightful setting) throughout the garden together.
The kids probably could have played in the garden for hours, but they needed a potty break, so we went into the house, where guests are welcome to use the bathrooms. The downstairs is also open to tour — you can view art in the lobby and a larger dining room and walk through the kitchen and office.
On the way out the kids stopped to sit in rocking chairs in the back porch and had there been more available (a couple were already occupied), it would have been wonderful to sit there all afternoon, just rocking and taking in the view. Instead, we called it a day and made our way back home.
River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive in Alexandria. It’s open from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday all year, and 9am – 1pm on Saturday from April through September. Admission is free, but donations are always appreciated.