Butterflies. Caterpillars. Brookside Gardens. Oh, my! Wheaton’s Brookside Gardens is once again inhabited by the locally-famous annual Wings of Fancy Butterfly & Caterpillar Exhibit. It opened in April and will close its wings in September. Summer is prime time to see “fancy” in flight.
This is the 22nd season of Wings of Fancy. Visitors can look into the eyes of hundreds of native and exotic butterflies from North America, Costa Rica, Africa and Asia, and learn firsthand about metamorphosis — from chrysalis to flying butterfly; how butterflies contribute to healthy ecosystems and how to ensure these beautiful insects thrive in our own Montgomery County gardens.
Horticulturalist and conservatory manager Kathy Stevens shared what to expect at this year’s event.
First, “the visitors are what’s new,” she said. “I have been meeting a large number of visitors who have never been to Wings of Fancy, or the gardens, before. Why is that? Possibly the new housing that has been built in the Wheaton and Silver Spring area. Possibly the great weather we had this spring (in between the heat and cold and storms). Possibly our increased presence on Facebook and the coupon for reduced admission through our webpage.” (These coupons are no longer available.)
Courtesy of Montgomery Parks
As for the butterflies, Stevens said, “The [specimens] we receive from the producers are the ones that are most reliably successful in protected cultivation. We may get a few new species each year, but they are usually not in great numbers or in many shipments.”
Stevens added that “it’s been seven months since the visitors have been able to hang out with hundreds of butterflies in a room full of flowers. That is a unique and special experience and people look forward to Wings of Fancy season for the five months of the off-season. Just as people anticipate the tulips in April and the azaleas and roses in May, visitors view the return of Wings of Fancy as part of the seasonal cycle at Brookside Gardens.”
“Care and Handling of Butterflies,” offered on July 11, invites visitors age 18-plus to learn more about the Lepidoptera family of butterflies and how to raise butterflies at home. Registrants will closely examine all the life stages. This event is hosted by Stevens herself and requires registration in advance. “We will go behind the scenes to learn how exhibit staff maintain healthy butterflies,” Stevens said. Discussion will cover parasites and diseases along with rearing techniques used in conservation. Butterfly and plant relationships in the garden will also be observed and discussed so that students will better understand how butterflies behave in every season and survive from year to year in our area. Cost is $25, $22 for Friends of Brookside Gardens (FOBG) members.
“Focus on Butterflies” allows photographers age 18+ to enjoy two quiet hours (8 to 10 a.m.) of up-close photography time with the specimens during one of 10sessions. Reservations are required. Cost is $30, $27 for FOBG members. This is a popular event; spaces are filling up fast.
A Blue Morpho alights on a visitor’s neck.
Courtesy of Montgomery Parks
50 Acres. 50 Years.
2019 is also the year Brookside Gardens celebrates its 50th birthday, so look for unique events and special programs while meandering this 50-acre horticultural display garden with intricately designed landscapes, permanent and seasonal displays, and two conservatories.
Throughout the year, the property welcomes a total of more than 400,000 visitors. Some come for the engaging classes, workshops, and special events for children and adults. Some come specifically for Wings of Fancy. Some come for the Garden of Lights display that is so popular with families.
“Many visitors come to Brookside Gardens seasonally,” Stevens said, “if not more often, for all the sequence of annual events: bulbs and flowers in spring, Wings of Fancy and the gardens in the summer, Chrysanthemums and leaf color in autumn, Garden Railway and Garden of Lights in winter, tropical foliage and flowers in the conservatory in winter through early spring.”
Wings of Fancy remains one of the most popular of Montgomery Parks programs. It all began, said Stevens, when “our director saw a traveling, portable butterfly exhibit in Rockville in 1996. It was housed in a hoop house covered with shade net, I believe. He asked the conservatory staff to go see it and consider whether they could run a similar exhibit inside the smaller of the two conservatory greenhouses.
”The next year, we had a trial run for two months. It was so popular that the season was extended from two months to four months. Several years later the season was started earlier, to overlap more with the public school year, allowing students to visit in April and May.”
Now look at it. One might say that the event has undergone a metamorphosis of its own.
“Wings of Fancy” is at the Brookside Gardens South Conservatory, 1500 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, through Sunday, Sept. 22. and is open daily. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through June 30; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends July 1-Aug. 31; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Sept. 1 -22. Admission is $8 for ages 13-plus; $5 for ages 3 to 12; and free for ages younger than 2. Tickets are available at the gift shop. Enjoy unlimited access to the exhibit by purchasing a frequent visitor pass. For more information, visit the Wings of Fancy page at www.brooksidegardens.org.