GARDEN OF LIGHTS TURNS QUIET PARK INTO WINTER WONDERLAND

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If you don’t love the Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, you may want to check yourself for Grinchiness.

Visitors to the display, a perennial delight since 1997, will see some of their old favorites this year as well something new.

Both tall and short visitors can walk through the larger-than-life-sized caterpillar, adorned with eyeballs and antennae, set up at the Visitors’ Center on Glenallen Avenue. Meandering paths throughout the gardens showcase more than a million lights brilliantly set up to depict various scenarios, including the ever-popular (and sometimes frightening) rainstorm, complete with clouds, a rainbow and thunder.

The storm is part of the seasonal section of the walk, where you can see flowers that bloom in different seasons — like roses and sunflowers — along the path.

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Another annual favorite is Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, who sits in the pool out behind the conservatory. Nearby are also glowing, bright red ants, a giraffe and a lion.

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All along the walk, trees and structures are bedazzled with lights of all colors, turning the night sky above the neighborhood into a bright beacon for those arriving from miles away. Light sculptures of howling wolves, delicate butterflies, falling snowflakes and flying geese line the paths and illuminate the gardens.

Make sure to stop inside the conservatory for a look at the model train display depicting local landmarks such as Glen Echo Park and even the conservatory at Brookside Gardens! Gaze down upon a scale model of the building with the trains inside, and see if you can spot yourself!

A number of trains and trolleys chug endlessly along their tracks, delighting visitors from the youngest to the oldest. Miniature lighted villages are set up along the tracks, nestled into the poinsettias and other greenery. The elaborate exhibit is set up yearly by volunteers from the Virginia, Washington & Maryland Garden Railway Society.

Musical performances are scheduled nightly from 6 to 8 in the Visitors’ Center. Still to come are the Eclectiks string band, the Chinese-American Tung-Hsin Choral Society and harpist Jim Dronenburg.

Snacks and drinks are sold in the Visitors’ Center, but new this year is a fire pit outside where you can buy supplies to make your own s’mores.

Garden of Lights was closed for the 2014 season while the Parks Department finished a big improvement project that, among other things, added needed parking spaces to the lot. Visitors to Garden of Lights can still find themselves in a long line to get into the parking lot, but you no longer hear about hours-long waits like you used to before the remodel.

Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallen Ave., Wheaton, MD 20902; open 5:30 to 9 Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 Fridays and Saturdays, through Jan. 1, closed Dec. 24 and 25; $25 per vehicle Sundays through Thursdays, $30 Fridays and Saturdays, more for groups in large vehicles, no walk-ins.

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