Brie Arthur in garden

Brie Arthur , a nationally known horticulturist, bestselling author, foodscape consultant, and celebrated speaker, will be the lead presenter at the 27th annual Gardening in the Northern Neck Seminar.

The seminar, hosted by the Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG) and Virginia Cooperative Extension, will be held virtually on Saturday, March 20, 2021. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s seminar will be conducted as an online webinar hosted via Zoom’s online platform. 

The theme of this year’s seminar is “Be Intentional: Create Livable, Edible, Sustainable Garden Spaces,” said NNMG president Marge Gibson. “As the lead speaker, Brie Arthur’s presentation ‘Foodscaping in the Norther Neck: Brie’s Spring Tricks for Success,’ will reflect the seminar’s theme with her unique approach to gardening.”

In the introduction of her book “The Foodscape Revolution,” Arthur defines foodscaping as “…the logical integration of edibles in a traditional ornamental landscape. In other words, to foodscape is to grow food alongside your flowers, within the landscape the already exists.” 

Arthur’s approach to gardening is realistic, flexible, scalable, and meant to be both fun and beautiful. Her journey into foodscaping began when she was a horticulture student who could not afford farmers market organic vegetables but wanted to eat pesticide-free, healthy food. Her solution was to plant lettuce on her windowsill, which evolved into her current comprehensive strategy of gardening. Arthur’s presentation will provide a guide on how to develop and nurture a successful foodscape for any level of gardener.

Other speakers include Nancy Lawson, author of “The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife,” and Vincent Simeone, whose presentation will be “Grow More with Less: Sustainable Garden Methods.”

“The annual Gardening in the Northern Neck seminar has gained a strong following due largely to the high quality of the speakers,” reported NNMG vice-president Lynn Osborn. “This year is no exception with nationally recognized speakers addressing a range of topics. While the format will be different this year to reflect the times we are in, the high quality this seminar is known for will remain unchanged.”

The registration fee for the virtual seminar is $25 and registration opens on February 1. Registration forms and instructions will be available at

The Shoreline Evaluation Program (SEP) is an educational outreach effort of the Northern Neck Master Gardeners. Since 2012, the program has provided property owners with recommendations for improving upland stormwater management, controlling pollutant and sediment runoff, and addressing shoreline erosion.

SEP Evaluation Team
        SEP Evaluation Team members performing a site visit.

The SEP program had a waiting list of homeowners requesting shoreline evaluations at the end of 2019. The first few months of 2020 brought more applications. Then, COVID-19 restrictions brought activities to a halt.

“We start visiting properties in April and continue until the end of October,” said Ian Cheyne, leader of the SEP group. “We try to respond to all the applications we receive by the end of the season, but in 2019 demand exceeded our capacity. It was especially frustrating that COVID-19 kept us from catching up or accepting new applications during the spring months this year.”

“We took advantage of the forced downtime to restructure our evaluation process to make it more comprehensive while reducing the turn-around time,” Cheyne continued. “We updated and expanded our ‘SEP Homeowners Shoreline Management Guide’ and trained additional team members which will enable us to undertake more activities in the post-COVID-19 era.”

In July, some of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The SEP team was back in full operation by September, and the backlog of applications was eliminated by the end of November.

“Sediment from wave erosion and stormwater runoff carries nutrients and toxins and is the major pollutant affecting the water quality of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” Cheyne said. “The Shoreline Evaluation Program is focused on helping Northern Neck homeowner reduce sedimentation from eroding soils.”

Climate change in eastern North America is bringing increased rainfall and heavier storms making property stormwater management more important. Coupled with gradual sea-level rise, both effects add new challenges to waterfront property management.

SEP Team Member Gail Cooper Measuring Water Depth at Dock
SEP Team Member Gail Cooper measures water depth at dock

When a request is received from a homeowner for an evaluation, a team of SEP members is assigned to visit the property and conduct a comprehensive evaluation. The team develops a detailed report identifying concerns and recommending strategies to address identified vulnerabilities and issues.

The homeowner receives the report along with a copy of the “SEP Homeowner’s Guide to Shoreline Management.” The Homeowner’s Guide includes information about shoreline protection, creating and managing an effective shoreline buffer, dealing with stormwater management, lists of native plants, and other useful information. The SEP team also follows up with the homeowner after the evaluation.


Homeowners looking for assistance with shoreline problems are encouraged to apply now for evaluations in 2021. Available slots go quickly. To apply, go to and download and complete the evaluation application form. Mail the completed application following the instruction on the form. There is a $60 fee for the evaluation. Homeowners may also call the Lancaster County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension at (804) 462-5780 for information.

Master Gardeners working in Stratford Hall vegetable garden


The Northern Neck Master Gardeners are assisting with on-going maintenance of the historical vegetable garden at Stratford Hall. The work is part of Northern Neck Master Gardeners’ ongoing efforts to support historical gardens on the Northern Neck including gardens at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Historic Christ Church and Museum.

Located in Westmoreland County, Stratford Hall is a National Historic Landmark that sits on nearly 2,000 acres along the Potomac River. It was home to four generations of the Lee family and birthplace of General Robert E. Lee. Today it is a showcase of 18th century plantation life and features interpretative displays of the social and cultural life of colonial times.

Master Gardeners working in Stratford Hall vegetable garden

In 2018, after three years of archaeological investigation and research by Stratford Hall and The Garden Club of Virginia, a mid-18th century plantation garden was added to the upper tier of the East Garden. The garden features ornamental flowering plants, evergreen hedges, vegetables, and espalier-trained fruit trees.

Although a gardener was hired to develop and tend this addition of plantation life, it was a significant undertaking. Extension Master Gardener Diane Smith, who was already volunteering in the research library at Stratford Hall, offered to help with the garden. Soon a group of Northern Neck Master Gardeners living in the area joined in the effort. The group rapidly became involved in the ongoing demands of maintaining the garden including working the soil, pruning, weeding, and attempting to keep the groundhogs at bay.

For the Northern Neck Master Gardeners, most volunteer activities and programs have traditionally been located in Northumberland and Lancaster counties. “Those of us who live in Westmoreland and Richmond counties welcome any additional projects closer to home such as the Stratford Hall vegetable garden,” said Diane Smith, who spearheaded the NNMG involvement.

“We can spend more time working and less time driving! Unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented us from working a good part of this year,” Smith continued. “We are looking forward to returning to the Stratford Hall garden as soon as possible.”

Master Gardeners working in Stratford Hall vegetable garden

The ornamental plants in the garden are types that were commonly available at the end of the 18th century. The vegetables are mostly chosen from Richard Henry Lee’s memorandum of the same time period. According to the Stratford Hall website, the East Garden is now “…one of the most visually stunning and accurate displays of 18th century landscape in the country. The East Garden showcases juxtaposed authentic 18th century and colonial revival garden designs.”

For more information on Stratford Hall, visit their website at

Northern Neck Master Gardeners working Washington Birthplace garden



Many people enjoy visiting the important historical sites in the Northern Neck and several of these sites include gardens that represent the historical period.

Over the last few years, several partnerships have developed between organizations that manage historical gardens and volunteers from the Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG). The George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County and Historic Christ Church and Museum in Lancaster County are all benefiting from new or enhanced connections which allow for on-going care of these beloved gardens.

The relationship between the NNMG and the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, run by the National Park Service, is not new. There is a long and rich history of cooperation going back 20 years. Over that time Extension Master Gardener volunteers have helped to refurbish and maintain the large Colonial Kitchen Garden near the Memorial House in the historic area.Northern Neck Master Gardeners working Washington Birthplace garden

“This garden, which was established in 1932 in the Colonial Revival or Williamsburg style, contains some 650 linear feet of beds. From its creation, it was a jumble of flowers and herbs in borders, with four squares (surrounded by English boxwood) on the north side intended for vegetables. The entire garden is surrounded by a picket fence and crisscrossed by brick walkways,” said Betsy Hardy, leader of the NNMG team. “It is a challenge to keep up as is with the demands of the changing seasons.”

More recently, the NNMG volunteers expanded the educational impact of the garden area. On the south end of the Kitchen Garden, they established a Teaching Garden of eight herb beds.  The Teaching Garden demonstrates what the Washington family would have needed and grown around 1732, the year of George’s birth.

“We have provided a rack card at the site to identify the different herbs used by the household for cooking, potpourri, medicines, and fabric dyes. The Washingtons relied on these essential plants for their health and comfort,” explained Wayne Condrey, a core member of the NNMG team. “Children are often fascinated by this glimpse into the past which, for them, is an introduction to a very strange world.”

Even though winter will soon be with us, the Birth Place is always a lovely location for a walk. Stroll along the paths that border Pope’s Creek, admire the layout of the beds and the borders in the Herb Garden, and study the information that brings the domestic realities of colonial times to life. Enjoy the tranquil ambiance of one of Virginia’s hidden treasures.

While the Visitor Center and Memorial House remain closed due to COVID-19, the gardens and many outbuildings are open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. For more details, visit or call (804) 224-1732 x227.

Reedville Shoreline Garden


In partnership with other agencies and local governments, Northern Neck Master Gardeners provide shoreline education

Northern Neck Master Gardeners working closely with partners at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and county governments have built the Shoreline Evaluation Program, an educational outreach effort that has provided hundreds of property owners with recommendations for improving upland stormwater management, pollutant and sediment runoff, and shoreline erosion.

Taking care of a shoreline presents a unique set of challenges not faced by property owners inland. Shorelines are dynamic and can be affected by the features of the nearby landscape such as areas of pavement, and even invasive species. Without careful planning and maintenance, shorelines can erode, which poses a potential threat to inland properties and structures.

Read more at:

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Where were the butterflies? 12/09/2020


Did you notice that this year butterflies seemed to appear in our gardens later than usual and in fewer numbers?

Where were they in the spring?

  • Did they just arrive late?
  • Are reduced populations cyclical?
  • Did the weather affect their numbers?
  • Will this be a continuing trend – the result of declining habitat, limited food sources, destruction of habitat, and/or increased pesticide use?

Globally, terrestrial insects appear to be declining at a rate of 9% per decade.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered.

Some of the insects most affected are bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, and damselflies.

Example: Between 2000-2009, the number of widespread butterfly species on farmed land in the UK fell by 58% (

Why Should We Worry?

  1. Insects = Protein (300 times more efficient than cows)

Although insects are near the bottom of the food chain, many creatures depend on them, directly or indirectly, as a food source.

Are they our food of the future?

3,000 ethnic groups in 130 countries already eat 2,086 species of insects. (Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta; Menzel, Peter (1998). Creepy crawly cuisine: the gourmet guide to edible insects)

  1. Insects = pollinators.

The plant world relies on their services. Approximately 80% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects.

Commercial agriculture depends on insects for pollination and crop production. 35% of the world’s crop pollination depends directly or indirectly on insects.  Insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to the US economy

  1. Insects = decomposers

Insects recycle, break down biomass, and generate organic matter that fertilizes plants.

  1. Insects = biological controls

Their value as natural pest control is estimated at $5.4 billion in the U.S. alone


Look through the slide presentation about “The Lost Summer of 2020: A Perfect Time to Plant Your Butterfly Garden!” Lost Summer Butterfly Slide Show