This story has been corrected March 25, 2014. An explanation follows the article.
Brookside Gardens in Wheaton is breaking ground next month on an expanded parking lot and landscaped entrance, but the park will need the public’s help to raise $733,000 to finish the job.
Brookside Gardens, a 54-acre public park located off of Glenallan Avenue, has been open to the public since 1969. When the primary parking lot was completed in 1997, there were 125 spaces, 50 fewer than garden staff had originally planned, said Phil Normandy, the plant collections manager for Brookside Gardens.
“We’ve known from the day the parking lot opened that it would likely not be big enough during peak hours and it turned out that way,” Normandy said.
When the lots are full, visitors have been forced to park on residential streets, Normandy said. The gardens average 400,000 visitors annually.With the parking lot redesign, 63 spaces will be added to the current visitors lot.
Normandy said designing a modified parking lot that retains as many plants and trees as possible had been particularly challenging.
“The goal was to squeeze those 60 spaces in as close to the original footprint as we could,” Normandy said. “It’s a bigger footprint but it’s not as big as you might think. It’s a very economical use of the space.”
Once an underdeveloped green space, Normandy said the parking lot will be rich with plant life, including 15,000 individual plants on parking lot islands, 2,000 shrubs and 200 trees. The islands, which will feature native sedges, grasses and wildflowers, will serve as bioretention areas, reducing the amount of polluted run-off by catching and treating stormwater.
During construction, rare plants in the parking lot area will be relocated and reused, while more common plants will be replaced, Normandy said.
In addition to the modified parking lot, the park’s vehicular entrance on 1800 Glenallan Ave., now called the Garden Gateway, will be expanded to include a pedestrian entrance and walkway, Normandy said. There will also be new gardens and gathering areas, including a resting place called the South Terrace that will include a water feature.
Normandy said the Garden Gateway and the modified parking lot will help transform the entrance into an immersive “parking garden.”
“We needed a bigger parking lot but we wanted to do this in a different way,” Normandy said. “The vision was you shouldn’t pull into a sea of asphalt and say ‘Where is the garden?’ You should pull into a place that looks like a garden and appreciate what you’re seeing already.”
The total cost of the project is $5.3 million, which includes expenses for the entrance, the parking lot, a pedestrian boardwalk, new garden and gathering areas and new plant displays, said Ellen Bennett, the advancement programs manager. Brookside Gardens has secured funding from the Montgomery County Capital Improvements Program, which only covers the infrastructure costs and the plants for the bioretention areas, Bennett said.
Bennett said that Gardens have enough funding to complete the parking lot and the Garden Gateway on time, but some of the aesthetic additions, such as artwork, plants, and water fountains will not be in place by May 2015 without an additional $840,000.
Brookside Gardens is partnering with the Montgomery Parks Foundation to identify potential donors. Bennett said the park is planning to recognize donors who give more than $1,000 by engraving their names on walkway pavers.
The Gardens have already received a $107,000 donation to fund the Garden Gatehouse, which will help control traffic during major events like the Garden of Lights.
“We hope our constituents give at whatever level they’re capable of giving because people love Brookside Gardens,” Bennett said. “If they’re willing to donate it’s going to be more wonderful for them. When they give to the gardens they’re giving to their own garden.”
Normandy and Bennett said the garden plans to include all of the features of the original design and will install them as the Gardens secure funding, even if it takes several years.
Highway and Safety Services, Inc., the project’s contractor, is expected to break ground on the parking lot in April, Bennett said. The goal is to complete the parking lot by Thanksgiving so the Gardens can host the Garden of Lights holiday show in November, Normandy said.
Several popular events, including the Wings of Fancy live butterfly and caterpillar exhibit, were cancelled this year due to the construction.
“We didn’t want to invite large groups of people to a place with no parking,” Normandy said. “It’s nuts to try to do everything we want to do if there’s no way for people to get there without pain and frustration. Let’s not invite people to a crowded house.”
The 15-month project period, which ends in May 2015, requires some construction work to take place during the spring, Normandy said.
“At some point spring would be sacrificed,” Normandy said. “It’s difficult to build without doing soil damage when the ground is frozen and covered with snow.”
Visitors are encouraged to park at the Gardens’ conservatory, which has 39 parking spaces, at Wheaton Regional Park or on Kemp Mill Road. The Gardens will be open throughout construction, Normandy said, but he encourages visitors to come on a weekday or in the evening and carpool.
“I just want to tell people it’s going to be so beautiful,” Normandy said. “They’re not just going to be driving into an anonymous park entrance. They’ll know at Glenallan Avenue that it is a garden. You’ll be in them from the minute you turn into the road.”
The orginal story gave the incorrect amount of donations needed to complete the project.