Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Brookside Gardens, where creativity and education take flight

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Naomi Brookner/The Gazette
Lexi Nocket, 9, of Gaithersburg works on an art project Friday during the last day of Brookside Gardens' annual butterfly camp.

The children at Brookside Gardens' summer butterfly day camp got a surprise visitor Friday, but for them, it was still a familiar sight.

"Cool! A monarch!" yelled a few of the children, quickly identifying the species of the butterfly that had just flown from the garden's grounds into a visitors center classroom.

That many of the 11 children identified the butterfly species while looking up from large hunks of a caterpillar-shaped cake made by program director Lynn Richard, proved a perfect example of the balance between education and fun that the camp provides.

"They have been able to see butterflies in all four stages of the life cycle," said Richard, children's program horticulturist at Brookside, 1800 Glenallan Ave. in Wheaton. "But then they have been outside at the exhibits and playing games in the gardens."

It was the third year Brookside has held the camp, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon each weekday.

On Friday, the last day of the weeklong camp, participants made a decorative stone shaped like a butterfly and examined some of the caterpillars held in enclosed cases in the visitors center. After that they took to the gardens and played an elaborate game of tag in which some children acted as birds and others as butterfly.

When the game became too complicated for Aaron Liss, 7, he decided to sit out and examine some of the nearby flowers on exhibit at Brookside.

"I like seeing the different butterflies. We didn't get to see most of these when we lived in Michigan," said Liss, whose family recently moved to Silver Spring.

Participants also were given their own caterpillars to bring home and were taught how to create a healthy habitat for them.

"This is the best camp I have ever been to," said Kendi Aaron, 7, of Silver Spring. "I can take home a caterpillar and watch as it becomes pretty."

Despite having to add a new pet to the house, Silver Spring resident Randee Exler, the mother of camper Molly Kramer, said the camp worked out for both her and her daughter.

"She loved it. She's showing us all the butterflies in our yard," Exler said. "Plus it gave me an excuse to walk in the gardens for two hours."

Another component of the camp was its coordination with Brookside's annual Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit, which the children visited every day. The exhibit is held in Brookside's conservatory and on any given day features between 600 and 800 butterflies, with more than 100 exotic species flying amongst the attendees.

Cheryl Beagle, the director of the Wings of Fancy exhibit, said this was only the second year Brookside was able to obtain Asian species of butterflies, which are know for their vibrant colors and designs and are obtained from butterfly farms from across North America and Costa Rica.

"The butterflies are so close to you," Beagle said of the exhibit's best quality. "People are drawn to the more personal experience."

The 12th year of Wings of Fancy began May 3 and will run until Sept. 21. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for children.

Butterflies are free to fly anywhere in the exhibit and among the attendees as they walk around the conservatory. Visitors are not allowed to touch the butterflies and before they exit the display, must be checked for butterflies that might have landed on them unknowingly, so none can escape.

Kramer said she was surprised by how interactive the exhibit was.

"I liked seeing all of the butterflies," she said. "Especially when one landed on my headband."