Brookside Gardens is a 50-acre public display garden operated by the Montgomery County, MD Department of Parks, a part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Montgomery County is one of the counties comprising the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.
Brookside Gardens’ collections are dispersed within garden beds and landscape plantings rather than being segregated arboretum-style. A small Camellia Garden was created as part of an expansion of Brookside Gardens in the early 1970s. It featured commonly available cultivars of Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua planted in groups in a landscape setting with companion azaleas under a canopy of Virginia pines and tuliptrees. This collection was decimated by severe winters in the late 1970s with only a few of the hardiest C. japonica cultivars (e.g., ‘Kumasaka’) surviving as stumps. As these regrew they were ravaged by deer which had by then had invaded the garden, making continued cultivation of camellias impossible. The few that weren’t finally killed were removed to another (deer-free) garden, McCrillis Gardens in nearby Bethesda, MD.
In the early 1990s the erection of a deer fence revived the possibility, but deer were still able to get in. In 1999 when all deer were completely removed and excluded there were no obstacles to re-establishing camellias in the garden. In fact, with the development of more cold-hardy cultivars, notably those of local breeder and retired U.S. National Arboretum scientist Dr. William Ackerman, there was a clear educational mandate to display camellias adaptable to local gardens. In 2001 Dr. Ackerman personally arranged a nursery’s donation of several of his hardy fall-blooming camellias, and these became the core of the new collection. The site of the original plantings, still called the Camellia Garden, was the obvious location of choice to begin again.
Through the encouragement and support of the Camellia Society of the Potomac Valley, many more cultivars were purchased and planted in 2003 and 2005 in and adjacent to the Camellia Garden. This time old “reliable” cultivars of C. japonica and progeny from other breeding and introduction programs (e.g., Dr. Clifford Parks’) were added as well as spring-blooming Ackerman hybrids. Visitors began to take notice.
Currently the Brookside Gardens collection contains 25 spring- and 6 fall-blooming cultivars, most in the 3 to 8’ height range. At the McCrillis Gardens (Bethesda) location, there are 18 spring- and 12 fall-blooming, most in the 8-20’ range. Included in the McCrillis collection are wild-collected North Korean C. japonica and C. oleifera from cultivated stock.
A complete listing of camellia cultivars currently alive at both Brookside and McCrillis Gardens can be found on the Brookside Gardens website