Stop Promoting Invasive Plants at Brookside Gardens

Stop Promoting Invasive Plants at Brookside Gardens

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Why this petition matters

Started by Robert Goodis

Brookside Gardens is located inside Wheaton Regional Park in Montgomery County, Maryland.  The County (through Montgomery Parks) owns and operates Brookside Gardens, which is open to the public year-round.

The County touts Brookside Gardens as an "incomparable, award-winning 50-acre public display garden" which includes "several distinct areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children's Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk" along with "a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden." (Source.)

On a recent visit to Brookside Gardens, it struck me how many of the plants are non-native to Montgomery County (in fact, many are not native anywhere in North America).  Based on some of the signage I observed, it looked to me like most of the gardens were designed and planted in the 1990s.  While the gardens are certainly beautiful, there is increasing evidence to show that native plants play a vital role in the ecosystem, supporting pollinators and other insects, as well as birds and wildlife, in ways that non-native plants simply cannot.  (Source.)  The public display gardens at Brookside Gardens are uniquely empowered to educate the public on best practices, but these gardens instead seem stuck in a decades-old mindset of landscaping that is hazardous to the environment.

What stood out the most is that Brookside Gardens is growing Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo) next to one of the main walking paths, and they have an expansive arbor covered in Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) that is a focal point near the Rose Garden.  The Maryland Department of Agriculture has listed Nandina domestica as a Tier 2 Invasive Plant since May 14, 2017.  Chinese Wisteria has been listed as a Tier 2 Invasive Plant since July 12, 2016. (Source.)

During my visit in early April 2022, a sign was posted near the Wisteria arbor, announcing that some of the older Wisteria sinensis was going to be cut back and replanted while Montgomery Parks rebuilds portions of the aging wooden arbor this spring.

Montgomery Parks should use this opportunity to remove known invasive species from Brookside Gardens and replace them with native plants.  A species which is nearly identical to the invasive Wisteria sinensis is native to the southern United States: Wisteria frutescens.  Though it is not considered native to Maryland (and it does not smell as sweet or as strong as W. sinensis), American Wisteria is native from North Carolina to Florida, west to Texas and Illinois.  We also have a number of true native vines which could cover the arbor for a similar aesthetic, while offering better support to native wildlife and pollinators: Lonicera sempervirens (Coral Honeysuckle) and Bignonia capreolata (Crossvine) readily come to mind.

Montgomery County government is no stranger to the native plant movement or the fight against invasive species.  Montgomery Parks actually has its own nursery, where native plants are propagated and grown to be planted in county parks.  They even sell native plants to the public and occasionally offer native plant and tree giveaways.  The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection runs RainScapes, one of the first such programs in the nation, which provides financial incentives for homeowners (and institutional and/or commercial properties) to reduce stormwater runoff and pollution by sustainable landscaping practices, focusing on the removal of invasive species and the installation of native plants in the form of Rain Gardens and Conservation Landscapes.

Montgomery Parks also runs the Weed Warriors program, which started in 1999 and trains volunteers to remove invasive species from county parks to help restore some balance to the ecosystem.  Montgomery County Weed Warriors was the first of its kind, and it inspired a movement with spinoff groups now organized to remove invasive plants from public lands across the country.  Tellingly, the Montgomery County Weed Warrior training program prioritizes removal of invasive vines from county parks, and Wisteria sinensis is high up on the list.

No matter what awards it may have won in the past, Brookside Gardens is now a tribute to an antiquated approach to landscaping.  Especially now, while Montgomery Parks prepares to rebuild portions of the Wisteria path, it is time for change.

Montgomery Parks: It is time to remove invasive plants from Brookside Gardens, and to use the gardens to share the beauty (and ecological benefits) of native plants.

71 have signed. Let’s get to 100!