JARS v44n1 - The Brighton Azalea Gardens

The Brighton Azalea Gardens
Michael J. Grear
Brookeville, Maryland

Reprinted from The Azalean, Journal of the Azalea Society of America, Vol. 11:2, June 1989 with their kind permission.

This beautiful five acre garden with over 22,000 individual azalea plants is located on the mixed hardwood forest covered shore of the Washington, D.C., Suburban Sanitary Commission's 800 acre Triadelphia Reservoir in Brookeville (Montgomery County), Maryland. Pedestrian and vehicular pathways meander through the garden where an elevated patio, gazebo and strategically placed benches provide scenic and panoramic views of the colorful azaleas and woodland surrounded reservoir. Often the azaleas are reflected in the reservoir's clear, smooth surface which allows for some wonderful photographs to be taken from the nearby Brighton Dam bridge deck sidewalk. Recently this public garden was included in botanical photojournalist, Wauneta B. Wine's book entitled: Gardens for All Seasons — The Public Gardens and Arboreta of Maryland . Also, the garden recently was recognized in the "Keep Montgomery County Beautiful" program's second annual beautification contest.

The Brighton azalea plantings were started in the fall of 1949 by the late Raymond W. Bellamy, Sr., former chairman (1951-1955) of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Mr. Bellamy had the desire to see the shorelines of the reservoir planted with azaleas, dogwoods and other flowering plants and trees. Cuttings were first obtained from Norfolk Azalea Gardens, Norfolk, Virginia, and rooted in 1950 for shoreline plantings. The project moved along very slowly, with only 600 plants surviving on the shores.

In 1958, Paul H. Hancock, then WSSC Watershed Supervisor, was advised that he would be in charge of all azalea propagation and shoreline plantings. With a great deal of help from Andrew N. Adams, Jr., owner, Ten Oaks Nursery, Clarksville, Maryland, Mr. Hancock started a greatly expanded WSSC azalea propagation program. Most of the cuttings came from the Norfolk Azalea Gardens and the Glenn Dale Sanitarium Gardens, Glenn Dale, Maryland. Some plants were obtained from the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. From 1958 to 1961, the azaleas were still being raised for shoreline plantings and many were planted not only on the shores around the Triadelphia Reservoir, but also around the newer T. Howard Duckett (Rocky Gorge) Reservoir.

For two years, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission continued to plant azaleas; however, unfortunately, vandals and thieves removed more than one third of the plants! To stop this, in 1962, Mr. Hancock designed an azalea garden which was approved by Louis M. Euler, then WSSC Water Supply Section Head. By confining the plants to one area, they could be better protected against thieves and vandals, and still be accessible to the public. To provide a foundation for the WSSC gardens, the Ten Oaks Nursery donated more than 300 mature plants. Since 1962, the gardens have flourished. On one recent Mother's Day Sunday alone, more than 6,000 visitors came to the gardens. They are generally recognized as one of suburban Maryland's finest springtime showplaces.

Brighton Azalea Garden
Brighton Azalea Garden
Brighton Azalea Garden
Photos by Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission staff photographers

Current Splendor

As Wauneta B. Wine states in her book: Those original azaleas, and the ones that followed, survived and thrived. Currently, they provide a living wall of color close at hand or a colorful carpet beneath the trees when viewed from a distance. Glenn Dale, Kurume, Indicas, Macrantha, Gables and Mollis are among the azalea varieties that reside in the five major divisions of the garden.

The topography is one of rolling hills with folds and gentle slopes. A circular observation patio allows a raised view of the gardens. A gravel vehicular road winds in, around, and through the mass of color. From a distance, the effect is that of a woodland with a flowing carpet of blazing irregular design. It is difficult to decide which is the most advantageous point of view, standing within the garden or sitting offshore looking in. Looking out across the reservoir, one can see azalea beds on far shorelines glowing beneath the spring, green tipped trees and reflected in the water. With over 8,000 visitors going through the garden over the weekend during its peak season, there is no claiming that it is overlooked. During April and May, this floral rainbow garden receives visitors from across the nation and around the world. Drivers with handicapped or elderly passengers are permitted to drive through the garden during the week. During the weekends, though, there are too many visitors to allow cars; however, a new electric cart is now available for special visitors to be escorted through the grounds.

The Kurume azaleas kick off the spring season. There are seven varieties at Brighton from the shell pink of 'Coral Bells' to the scarlet of 'Hinodegiri'. The plant with the most impact of the group is 'Snow', pure white. Midseason bloom is provided by the Gable and Mollis hybrids as well as 'Indica Rosea'. Deep colors are provided by Gable's 'Herbert' with large frilled and ruffled flowers and 'Royalty' with double flowers of bright purple. The deciduous Mollis hybrids present beautiful yellow and orange to orange-red colors. The plants are upright, tall and neat of habit. 'Glacier' (Glenn Dale) is a midseason azalea with large growth and white blossoms. Another Kurume, 'Salmon Queen', picks up the time line as a very late bloomer. It is a large plant with salmon colored blossoms, joining 'Salmon Queen' at the end of the season are 'Indica Magnifica' (spotted and flushed pink), 'Indica Albo', (white), and 'Macrantha' (salmon red and very late).

The visitor's timing is important for this single season garden for it is not open during the rest of the year. With large numbers of visitors on the weekends, it is more enjoyable during a midweek morning.

Specific Varieties In The Brighton Azalea Garden

Glenn Dale Azaleas
1.  'Glacier' - Very large, leafy green plant, white bloom - midseason.
We have many other varieties of B.Y. Morrison's azaleas in our gardens. These plants came as cuttings from the beautiful plants at the Glenn Dale Sanitarium. After they had been rooted, we discovered that they were culls or throwaways from the USDA Plant Introduction Center at Glenn Dale, Maryland and were unnamed varieties.

Kurume Azaleas

1.  'Coral Bells' - Shell pink, shaded darker, early.
2.  'Hino Crimson' - Single, brilliant red, non-fading, early.
3.  'Hinodegiri' - Single, brilliant scarlet, heavy bloomer, early.
4.  'Hinomayo' - Single, soft pink, foliage small, plant tall, early.
5.  'Pink Pearl' - Salmon rose, with light centers, early.
6.  'Salmon Beauty' - Salmon pink, light green foliage, early.
7.  'Salmon Queen' - Large plant, salmon colored blossoms - very late.
8.  'Snow' - Snow white, very compact growth, early.

Joseph Gable Azaleas

1.  'Herbert' - Semi double, large frilled and ruffled, dark crimson, purple, midseason.
2.  'Royalty' - Double, bright purple, midseason.

Mollis Azalea Hybrids

We have a few deciduous varieties planted near the main entrance to the gardens. These plants are upright and tall, with very large flowers and a very striking range of colors from yellow orange to orange red. They are midseason bloomers.

Robin Hill Azaleas

In the fall of 1988, as part of a bed replacement program, Mr. Emile Deckert, of the Azalea Hortico Nursery of Fine Azaleas in Hampstead, Maryland, supplied 40 individual plants of the new (to us) lower growing variety known as Robin Hill evergreen azaleas. It is hoped that this variety will require less pruning to hold down overall size than the varieties that were popular during the 1960's and 1970's.

Azaleas - Miscellaneous, Hybrids and Others

1.  'Indica Rosea' - Large flowers, flushed pinkish white, midseason.
2.  'Indica Alba' - single, pure white, broad grower, late.
3.  'Indica magnifica' - Single, large flowers, spotted and flushed with pink, late.
4.  'Macrantha' - Single, salmon red, very late.


Hours: Daylight  9:00 AM to sunset, seven days per week.
Single Season: Mid April to end of May.
Services: An electric cart is available for the elderly and the handicapped. The pedestrian paths and vehicular access road systems are not paved and thus are not accessible to the wheelchair bound visitor. Automobiles are allowed for elderly or handicapped visitors during weekdays only.
Admission: Free!
Information: The adjacent Brighton Dam picnic area is closed during the blooming season due to the need for parking space for garden visitors. The gardens are closed the rest of the year. For use of electric cart for the elderly and handicapped, please call in advance.
Directions: From Washington D.C.: From the Washington Beltway (495) take exit 25, New Hampshire Avenue (Maryland Route 650) north. Follow Route 650 through Colesville, Ashton, and Brinklow to Brighton Dam Road. Turn right on Brighton Dam Road and continue 1.1 miles to the Brighton Dam parking area on the right. The Garden is directly across the street on the left.

From Baltimore, Md.: From the Baltimore Beltway (695) take exit 27 or exit 28 west to Route 29. Turn south on Route 29 to Route 108. At Route 108 turn right (west to Clarksville). In Clarksville turn right on Ten Oaks Road and follow for 0.6 miles where it is joined by Brighton Dam Road on the left. Turn left on Brighton Dam Road and proceed 3.3 miles until you come to the Brighton Dam parking area on the left. The Garden is directly across the street on the right.


I am indeed fortunate for it is an extreme pleasure and honor as well as quite an educational experience to be involved as garden curator as part of my watershed forestland and reservoirs management duties. I heartily invite all American Rhododendron Society members and journal readers to come visit us in late April/early May. We have 20,000 - 50,000 visitors each season with Mother's Day Sunday being the peak visitation day. Our visitors frequently remark on the splendor, beauty, serenity and magnificence of the display. We hope you'll enjoy it too!