Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens + F. Scott Fitzgerald

Where: 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD
When: Daily, “sunrise to sunset.” Admission to Brookside Gardens is FREE- however, for this specific exhibit, tickets are $8 for those who are 13+, $5 for those who are 3-12, and free for those who are under 2.

Can I call this post Marylandventuring? Is that one step too far? I’m gonna do it.

So, here’s the thing. I get out and do a lot of stuff with my kids, especially in the summer, because it’s fun and we love being out and about and doing new things, and I’m not one who can spend much time sitting around doing nothing before I start getting antsy. For the most part, these outings go well- I do have to make certain accommodations for the fact that one of my kids is only 20.. 21? months old (she’s the second kid, I can’t keep up with months- I just know she will be 2 in November), but generally, we get out and have ourselves a grand old time.

Sometimes, we have ourselves a bit of a fiasco. Today was just one of them days (sings like Monica). I planned a fun outing, loaded everyone up nice and early to hit the road, and we hit one snag after another. I live 33 miles from Brookside Gardens, yet it took us nearly 2 hours to get there thanks to traffic on 495, the gift that keeps on giving. Then we roamed a residential neighborhood confused about why the park was nowhere to be found only to realize I had accidentally put in the address for Montgomery County Parks main office, not Brookside Gardens. When we finally got to Brookside Gardens, all the parking spaces were taken, so we had to park down the road at the Brookside Nature Center lot and walk up to the garden. There’s a boardwalk path through the back of the nature center lot into Brookside Gardens, but I didn’t know that because I don’t pay attention to things sometimes. So imagine the three of us, tromping up Glenallan Avenue, trying to stay out of traffic and on the thin margin of dirt that exists beside the road before turning to wild vegetation. Then we got to the main gate, which doesn’t allow for pedestrian traffic. Yahtzee!! I had to help my oldest over a large grate made up of thin cement cylinders spaced just far enough apart to easily break an ankle if your foot rolled into one while you were unlawfully crossing it.

Look, this is why I’m here. Partly to offer helpful advice and partly to act as a cautionary tale.

After we had proven ourselves worthy of advancing to the next round of Survivor: Brookside Gardens, we purchased tickets and made our way to the Wings of Fancy exhibit. This is a special exhibit on display this summer that will be open through October 25th and features different species of butterflies flying freely around a greenhouse as well a second small exhibit within the greenhouse of caterpillars and their chrysalises.

This is a Red Admiral caterpillar and I was geeking out because he looks EXACTLY like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I’ll stop inundating you with pictures of butterflies now.

Your paid entry to the Wings of Fancy exhibit is good for the entire day, so you’re welcome to stay in the greenhouse observing butterflies as long as you like, then go explore the rest of the gardens for a bit and stop back in before you leave.

My kids’ favorite section of Brookside was the Children’s Garden and Visitor’s Center. Typically, the Visitor’s Center is where you would park at the gardens and the Children’s Garden is the first thing you see upon entry, but this area is undergoing renovations of some sort so the lot is closed, although the center remains open. That means this is now at the BACK of the park. A very nice man inside gave us a scavenger hunt/Bingo game and stickers to stick on things we found while in the Children’s Garden. This was very appreciated by my 5 year old who went around the garden seeking each thing on the list.

The rest of the gardens are beautiful (you know, like gardens tend to be) though our exploration was cut short due to looming rainclouds that broke open JUST as we got into our car (via the convenient walking path that leads to the Nature Center lot, saving us another death-defying walk along Glenallan Avenue).

Some helpful tips:

-Strollers are allowed in Brookside Gardens, though not in the Wings of Fancy exhibit itself. However, the garden does feature stairs and terracing that may make strollering difficult, so consider leaving yours in the car if you don’t absolutely need it. The garden is easily walkable for young children.

-There’s very, very limited parking at Brookside Gardens itself. The lot was completely full when I arrived at 10:30. If there’s no parking available in the lot, continue on down Glenallan Avenue to the Brookside Nature Center lot and park there. BE SURE to go to the back of the lot to access the boardwalk path into the backside of Brookside- it will deposit you directly outside the gift shop and butterfly greenhouse. Don’t be like me and attempt to walk in the front gate on foot.

-If you’ve got time, energy, and it isn’t pouring rain, Brookside Nature Center has some very neat looking boardwalk paths that extend up from the parking lot into the woods that would be a great walk. There’s also a visitor’s center with several exhibits for kids, as well as a cabin dating from the 1870s that is left to show visitors what life in 1870 was like. (Literature suggests: hard.)

Our next stop after we were done at Brookside Gardens (and had narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a man who was inexplicably coming up the wrong side of a divided road I was coming down) was something I have wanted to go see and was only 6 miles away from: the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Hat tip to Washingtonian Magazine which revealed to me that they were buried in a small plot at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville. As a lifelong bookworm, dedicated reader, lover of literature, it felt like a necessary pilgrimage to go visit the gravesite while I was so nearby. I missed the turn-in and had to circle around no less than 3 times to make it back, but I was committed to getting there after making the trip so we persevered.

F. Scott (the F stands for Francis, as in Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, whom our F. Scott was related to and named after) and Zelda are buried together in this cemetery in the same grave, with Zelda’s coffin placed atop F. Scott’s. (Their daughter, Frances Scott “Scottie” is also buried there, though in her own grave.)

Although the token gifts of Tanqueray and Blue Sapphire Gin were thoughtful (?) (F. Scott was a notorious alcoholic and died of a heart attack at age 44) I can’t claim them, as they were waiting there when we arrived.

My kids, obviously, did not have a clue whose grave this was or its significance, but I have found that children are naturally curious about cemeteries and their questions about what they’re seeing can often lead to thought-provoking conversation, so I would encourage you to not shy away from taking yours if you’re concerned. My daughter had lots of questions about the grave markers, what they said, where exactly the bodies were, what would happen when Grandmother died (to which I told her in full honesty GRANDMOTHER IS NEVER GOING TO DIE, mostly because I hope that’s true). I held onto my youngest so she couldn’t run amok among the gravestones and my oldest told me she thought it was a nice peaceful place. Older kids who are interested in reading or have read Gatsby for school would be particularly interested in visiting, I would think.

Written on the gravestone is part of the last line from Fitzgerald’s famous novel (and masterpiece), the full text of which is as follows:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Make a day of it:

Just around the corner from St. Mary’s is Rockville Town Square, an outdoor shopping center with stores and restaurants. Stop in for lunch before heading home! As we were heading down Maryland Avenue toward 270 we passed a great looking little park I would have loved to stop and play at- Monument Park. Alas, it had begun to rain again so we had to pass on by, but maybe next time!

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