The conservatory is lively and colorful, and your eyes can’t stop darting from one thing to the next. As you pause to take it all in, you can’t help but jump a little bit when you feel the tingle of butterfly legs suddenly graze your arm. [IMGCAP(1)]
Or you could be completely startled by a butterfly landing on you and scream. (But the first choice is likely preferable to the other visitors.) So be forewarned that a butterfly landing somewhere on your body at the Brookside Gardens butterfly exhibit is entirely possible — it’s a little less surprising when you’re prepared for it.
Just minutes off the Beltway, one can be surrounded by butterflies fluttering about freely at the south conservatory at Brookside Gardens, located in Wheaton, Md. The conservatory is full of tropical flowering nectar plants that the butterflies feed on, and with the numerous species on display it’s not hard to get an up-close look at them sipping on nectar. [IMGCAP(2)]
The admission charge is a small price to pay to see more than 30 species of Asian butterflies joining Costa Rican and North American butterflies in the only international exhibit in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Some of the butterflies you’ll see at the exhibit include monarchs, zebra swallowtails, mournful owls, morphos, royal blues and banded oranges, among many others.
Tickets for the exhibit can be purchased in the gift shop, which is located near the conservatory’s entrance. (If you have exact change, especially in the form of $1 bills, the employees in the gift shop will be forever grateful.) At the entrance to the exhibit, a volunteer will take your ticket and open the door for you. Another volunteer will then make sure that door is closed before giving you the go-ahead into the conservatory.
Immediately upon stepping inside, butterflies are all around you. There are a variety of plants that butterflies land on to sip nectar, in addition to a handful of rotting fruit trays, featuring surplus fruit from Good Earth Garden Market in Olney, Md. The overripe fruit is preferred by some butterfly species as their source of nutrition.
Once you’ve had your fill of watching the butterflies, a volunteer will check you at the exit for any stragglers — a butterfly could land on you or your bag and you’d walk right out without even knowing. After you receive an all-clear, head outside and explore the rest of the 50-acre public display garden, which is free and open to the public from dawn to dusk.
Right near the conservatory is the rose garden, featuring roses, of course, along with a plethora of benches to take a breather on while soaking up the sun and enjoying the fragrant smell of the flowers. Brookside Gardens also features an azalea garden, Japanese style garden and a horticultural reference library in the visitor center, among other attractions.
The butterfly exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have the opportunity to go on a weekday, it’ll likely be less crowded. However, if your work schedule prevents you from indulging in a butterfly getaway during the week, Under Your Nose suggests arriving relatively close to the conservatory’s opening time to ensure you snag a parking spot.
If you’re primarily going to the gardens for the butterfly exhibit, it’ll be ideal to park in the conservatory parking lot, which is a little down the road from the visitor center lot. Fair warning: On a weekend with nice weather, traffic can back up on Glenallan Avenue because of “Lot Full” signs in front of the automatic gates, which is why it’s best to go early. Also, if the gates are closed, don’t think the gardens are, too. The parking lots have gates that automatically open and close for cars coming and going.
Oh, and if you don’t want to feel like the odd man out while at the exhibit, make sure you bring a camera. The conservatory lends itself to myriad photographic opportunities that you wouldn’t want to miss.