For shorefront homeowners, the area between land and water offers a planting zone with specific demands and requirements. According to Northern Neck Master Gardener and Shoreline Evaluation Program Chair Mary Turville, it is easy to create and encourage a healthy and beautiful shoreline.

“Only one plant, smooth cordgrass, grows along the water’s edge,” said Turville. “Smooth cordgrass provides the basis of our marshes and is uniquely adapted to shoreline conditions.”

Smooth cordgrass needs to be inundated by brackish water twice a day; however, its roots cannot survive if permanently underwater. Smooth cordgrass needs six hours of sunlight each day and prefers a sandy bottom.

“If you have these conditions, you have a marsh,” Turville continued. “The extent of this grassy fringe depends on the depth of the water. The plant’s roots will extend outwards as far as the favorable conditions exist. Once the water is too deep, the growth stops.”

Behind the smooth cordgrass, there are a few more options including salt marsh hay and a variety of rushes. A little farther back, taller grasses and some salt-resistant shrubs start to appear.

“Groundsel bush, wax myrtle, and clumps of switchgrass, all native plants, are perfectly adapted to this environment,” continued Turville. “These plants experience few insect or disease threats and need no fertilizer. They all have sturdy, thirsty roots which will hold the soil on the bank, absorb stormwater run-off, and stabilize the edge of your property.”

Switchgrass, which has roots that can reach six or seven feet into the ground, is the ideal plant to grow on a bank and at the edge of the upland. If it gets too tall, just cut it back. Its open, airy seed heads, waving in the breeze and catching the sunlight, add to the beauty of the shoreline landscape.

A little higher above the water line, flowering plants add variety and color. Marsh hibiscus, marsh mallow, and seaside goldenrod are all native plants that thrive in this zone. “There’s no need to purchase or plant them. The birds and the wind will carry and drop the seeds,” said Turville. “Once established they will easily reproduce and spread.”

If you want additional shapes and colors, try planting flag irises, which can survive in wet conditions. Farther up the bank, where the soil is often moist but only occasional inundations occur, a wide range of commercially available plants can find a home. Experiment with selections from any list of plants for moist conditions.

“The most important guideline for shoreline planting is to have a variety of plants growing in this area and as densely as possible,” Turville stated. “Lawn and turfgrass should not be grown in this area. It does little to protect the shoreline and prevent damage from stormwater runoff. This is the zone for native plants with deep, thirsty roots to provide shoreline stability and erosion control. The shoreline is a place for working plants – and for natural beauty.”

Visit the Northern Neck Master Gardeners’ Shoreline Garden at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. For more information on the Northern Neck Master Gardeners’ Shoreline Evaluation Program, visit or call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.


NNMG Training Team members (l to r): Carol Martin, Janice Mahoney,

Mary Beane, Michelle Kramer, Bonnie Schaschek, and Fran Westbrook


The Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG) Association and Virginia Cooperative Extension will conduct Extension Master Gardener training from February 15 to April 14, 2022.

“The NNMG Training Program, typically offered once every two years, is the gateway to becoming an Extension Master Gardener,” said spokesperson Michelle Kramer.

“The Northern Neck, with its unpredictable weather and proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, presents a unique set of gardening challenges,” said training team member Carol Martin. “We focus on issues facing local residents. Our education programs strike a balance between responsible gardening and conserving our land and waters.”

Training team members have a wide range of gardening experiences from beginner to expert. “We share a passion for learning about current and sustainable gardening techniques and, most importantly, we want to share our knowledge and experience with our trainees,” said Kramer. “We began meeting in June and are working to design a fun and informative program.” 

“A great plus of participating in the Extension Master Gardener Program has been the great friends I have made and the new information I have been able to gather through the many educational opportunities,” said Kramer.

“You don’t need to be an expert gardener to apply. Trainees just need to have an enthusiasm for the fundamental aspects of gardening, a willingness to learn more, and a commitment to volunteerism,” said Kramer.

The training program will take place from February 15 to April 14, 2022, with sessions typically held on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Enrollment is open to anyone in Essex, Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland counties.

Culinary herbs at Historic Christ Church


Herbs and spices – just the sound of those words conjures up memories of fragrant flowers, delicious foods, or beautiful gardens. Herbs and spices have been used for centuries for a variety of purposes including flavoring foods, masking unpleasant odors, healing wounds and curing illnesses, and adding mystery to events or rituals.

Herbs are usually the leaves, flowers, or seeds of annuals and can be used fresh or dried. Spices are the aromatic substance usually derived from woody stems or seeds of heartier plants. Some plants, such as fennel, are used both for their softer vegetative parts and feathery leaves as well as their dried seeds as a spice or flavoring.

“Many gardeners include herbs as part of their usual plant selection,” said Helen Johnson, Northern Neck Master Gardner. “They include herbs they use in their own cooking or just because they enjoy the fragrance of a specific one such as lavender. Basil, thyme, oregano, chives, and garlic are culinary herbs that are easy to grow and do well in the Northern Neck.”

“Fresh herbs add amazing flavor to recipes and basil is especially easy to freeze for later use,” said Johnson. “Parsley and fennel are great in the kitchen but are also attract black swallowtail butterflies to your garden.”

When adding herbs to your garden, think in terms of companion planting. Companion plants are planted together to create a beautiful and healthy garden. Roses love plants in the allium family, which includes garlic and chives. Marigolds and calendula attract insects that eat aphids. Garlic and basil near tomato plants repel flies and mosquitoes. Chives and mint in the garden are said to improve the flavor of home-grown tomatoes.

There are other creative ways to use herbs. Dried herbs, rose petals, citrus peel, and anise seeds can be a base for dry potpourri and sachets. Pomander balls are citrus fruit studded with cloves and allowed to dry. Almost any herb alone or in combination can be used to flavor vinegar, and herbs can add interesting flavors to teas and other beverages.

Consider visiting a historically focused garden. Formal herb gardens, such as the ones found at Historic Christ Church in Weems and Stratford Hall in Stratford, are often divided into specific areas of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, fragrance herbs, and biblical herbs.

“Herb gardens have become another layer of authenticity for visitors to our treasured historic sites, such as the herb garden at Historic Christ Church in Weems,” said Sally Beard, Northern Neck Master Gardner.

“They played a vital role in the Colonial household and served to cure ills, bandage wounds, flavor foods, and beautify homes. We view and enjoy them on tours, but the message of how vital they were to Colonial life is what sets them apart from other garden plants. They were as much a tool as they were beautiful. Their purpose cannot be overestimated,” explained Beard.

There are many herbs that do well in the Northern Neck. Start with basil, thyme, oregano, garlic, chives, fennel, and parsley. Then add variety to spice up your garden.

Fall armyworms in lawns are a concern on the Northern Neck this year. “Scout” your lawn for brown spots and patches. Fall armyworms will be clearly visible. They can severely damage or destroy a lawn in a few days so early detection

 and treatment are essential.
Fall armyworms do not eat the stolons and rhizomes of warm season grasses, such as Bermuda grass and zoysia. Therefore, warm season grasses have a better chance of recovery.
Cool season grasses, such as fescue, bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass, are not as resistant to fall armyworm damage. Damaged portions of cool season lawns may require reseeding or resodding.

Contact your local Extension Master Gardener Unit or Cooperative Extension office if you need assistance.
Click the link below for information from the NC State Extension.


It is easy to develop a vision for your garden in the spring, finding new ideas, and the plants that can transform that concept into reality. As the seasons progress, the days heat up, and the spring bloomers fade away, it is more difficult to bring life and color to the garden. If you need inspiration, maybe it is time to visit the Northern Neck Master Gardeners’ (NNMG) Shoreline Demonstration Garden at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum.

According to NNMG Sue Lindsey, the garden was designed to demonstrate the principles of a living shoreline using native plants.

“The plants hold the soil, stabilize the bank, absorb the runoff from the adjacent parking lot, and trap sediment and pollutants that would otherwise impact the waters of Cockrell Creek and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Lindsey. “The garden provides food and shelter for wildlife and offers sustenance for a range of pollinators. It can also inspire many gardeners.”

The plantings illustrate a changing garden palette throughout the growing season. Each month reveals new swathes of color, diverse textures, and varied shape and form.

Northern Neck Master Gardeners (l to r) Barb Kauneckas, Carol Martin, and Deborah Marl working at the Shoreline Demonstration Garden.
Northern Neck Master Gardeners (l to r) Barb Kauneckas, Carol Martin, and Deborah Marl working at the Shoreline Demonstration Garden.

By late June, the upper bed is dominated by tall stands of red beebalm, clumps of bright yellow tickseed, and the last flowerings of blue and purple Stokes’ aster. Tall plumes of white wandflower ‘whirling butterflies’ bloom all summer, waving in the breeze. When the stalks get too long and straggly, they are cut back and new flower stems appears. Mid-summer brings color to the lower bed with black-eyed Susans creating a backdrop of yellow flower clusters. These will be joined by more splashes of gold atop the spectacular, towering cup plants, which can grow up to eight feet tall. New York ironweed thrusts purple spikes 6 feet high to dominate the landscape in August and September. As summer moves into fall, yellow ‘fireworks’ goldenrod fills the northern corner, while purple asters cascade down the slope.

“The rains we received seem to have put some of these plants on steroids. They are blooming like never before,” said Lindsey. “And the same can be said of the many uninvited guests that crowd out the lower region of the garden. Weed control is an on-going battle for the NNMG volunteers who maintain the garden. There’s a place for everything in the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum Garden. Well, most things, we have eliminated the highly invasive phragmites and we fight the good fight against poison ivy.”

The Shoreline Garden is located next to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum and behind Bethany United Methodist Church. It is always open, has interpretative signage, and the plants are labeled. The “Guide to the RFM Garden” can be viewed online at There is also an illustrated plant directory, with information on all the garden’s plants.

butterflies on flowers

Gardens can be transformed into mini-sanctuaries for wildlife and areas that attract birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. The process involves improving elements in the landscape and concentrating gardening efforts on creating beneficial habitats.

“My garden habitats are designed to sustain birds, bees, and butterflies,” said Janice Mahoney, a Northern Neck Master Gardener. “I ensure that I provide four essential ingredients: water, food, cover, and space.”

All wildlife species need water for drinking. Birds also need water for bathing. If birds cannot bathe, their feathers become dirty making flight difficult. The best water source for birds and butterflies is a birdbath no more than 3 inches deep. By adding pebbles or larger rocks to the basin, the birdbath becomes a water source for butterflies.

Mahoney states that food sources vary for birds, bees, and butterflies. “Birds eat nuts, berries, seeds, and insects. The insects provide essential proteins for adult birds and their fledglings. Some common seed sources are sunflower seeds and the seeds in the cones of pines and firs. Favorite berries are available from the American holly, dogwoods, and blueberry and blackberry bushes.”

Research indicates that more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies, and damselflies are some of the most affected species. Insects provide protein especially to bird fledglings. Without insects, bird populations would decline. Insects pollinate approximately 80% of flowering plants including commercial agriculture.

Nectar from flowering plants is the main food source for bees. Common nectar plants in the Northern Neck are sunflowers, coneflowers, bee balm, zinnias, asters, and lantana.

“There are four thousand species of bees in North America, and bees are our most important and efficient pollinators,” continued Mahoney. “Bumble bees form hives but most native bees are solitary and lay their eggs in ground tunnels, hollow plant stems, or decaying wood.”

Honeybees are not native to the United States. They were imported from Europe for agricultural pollination and honey production.

Butterflies require two different food sources, host plants and nectar plants. Butterflies lay their eggs on a host plant, which then provides the food for the caterpillar as it goes through its metamorphosis into an adult butterfly. Each butterfly species has specific host plants for its eggs and caterpillars. Host plants for caterpillars include white clover, dill, fennel, parsley, and milkweed.

Bees on flowers

“Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed. You must plant milkweed if you want to attract monarchs to your yard,” Mahoney said. “Adding butterfly weed to your landscape will also add a bright note of orange to your plantings.”

Once the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly, the food resources are the same flowering nectar plants that feed the bees.

“Wildlife needs the space to find safe places to reproduce and to protect and nourish their young,” Mahoney continued. “Cover provides wildlife with shelter from extreme heat and cold, high winds, storms, and predators. Trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants provide cover, as do rock piles, brush piles, cavities in trees, and birdhouses.” 

Mahoney concluded, “Remember, habitat gardeners manage the habitat, not the wildlife within it.”

The garden is lush and beautiful and full of life.  Butterflies flit from blossom to blossom.  Bees of all types are busy pollinating flowers.  Birds swoop down to capture caterpillars to feed their young.  The garden provides food for animals through all the seasons, while providing ever-changing color and interest toPhoto of Sweet Spire its owners.  What makes this garden so special?  Native plants.


Gardeners everywhere are discovering, or rediscovering, that native plants are the key to a vibrant landscape. Over countless years, plants and animals evolved to support one another.

“Plants native to our area are able to provide wildlife with the food, shelter, and complex relationships they need to thrive,” said Northern Neck Master Gardener Carol Martin. “Birds need thousands of caterpillars to raise each brood. These caterpillars, in turn, feed only on certain native plants, so your landscape needs native plants to support the bird population.”

People have become accustomed to orderly gardens filled with exotic (non-native) plants, often chosen because their leaves do not tempt local insects. They also think that native gardens cannot give the same sense of peace, beauty, and satisfaction. One look at the Northern Neck Master Gardeners’ Living Shoreline Garden at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum proves this is not true. Most of the plants in the garden are natives. Signage gives the common and scientific name and notable characteristics of each native so that visitors to the garden can easily identify their favorites. The garden provides an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colors and textures and shows that native gardens can be as orderly or as uncontrolled as you would like.

Recent research shows that a landscape can be 30% non-native and yet still provide the ecosystem need

ed by wildlife, so you do not have to get rid of your favorite plants. “It’s easy to start using natives,” said Martin. “You can add natives gradually to existing beds or create new beds using natives. We strongly encourage people to use native plants whenever possible.”

Martin says that it is easy to find natives to use instead of more familiar plants. “Use winterberry holly for its red berries instead of nandina, or Virginia sweetspire for its bright red leaves in fall instead of burning bush, or fringetree instead of Bradford pear. Add native plants to your garden. You won’t be disappointed.”

SEP Team (L to R) Jeff Schmidt, Diane Smith, and Steve Mosier evaluating a property
SEP Team (L to R) Jeff Schmidt, Diane Smith, and Steve Mosier evaluating a property

The SEP team took most of 2020 to assess and upgrade the program. “We restructured our evaluation process and increased attention to stormwater management and climate change issues such as sea-level rise. We also trained a number of new team members to enable us to expand our activities,” stated Mary Turville, SEP Chairperson.

Runoff, with high levels of sediment and nutrients, continues to be one of the major issues affecting the health of the Bay. Since 2012, SEP has assisted hundreds of waterfront homeowners protect their property from erosion and protect the Bay’s waters from runoff.

A team of two or three SEP members visits the property and conducts a comprehensive evaluation of the site’s problems. The team then provides the homeowner with a detailed written report identifying issues and strategies to address the issues.

The homeowner also receives a copy of the SEP “Homeowner’s Guide to Shoreline Management.” The newly expanded Guide is a great reference resource on shoreline property management with sections on shoreline protection, upland stormwater management, and ways to develop an interesting and pleasing protective shoreline buffer. The Guide also includes a new plant list with native plant recommendations for upland, buffer, and shoreline areas.

Local creek loaded with sediment after a heavy rain
Local creek loaded with sediment after a heavy rain

“Homeowners looking for assistance with shoreline problems or ideas on how they can make their property more ‘Bay friendly’ are encouraged to apply now for an evaluation,” said Turville. “Our annual capacity is limited and available spots are usually taken by late spring or early summer.”

To apply, go to the Northern Neck Master Gardeners Shoreline Evaluation Program webpage at and download the “Shoreline Evaluation Registration and Questionnaire” form. Complete the registration form and return it, along with a check for $60, to the Lancaster Virginia Cooperative Extension office at the address shown on the form.

During the evaluation, SEP team members will observe all current Virginia Covid-19 requirements.

From Deck to Dock:  Plants for a Northern Neck Home – Fun in the Sun

Monarch caterpillars feasting on a butterfly weed

The Northern Neck Master Gardeners (NNMG) will hold their “From Deck to Dock” plant sale at Dug In Farms, 155 Fleets Bay Road, White Stone. Sale dates are April 30 to May 2, and hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. A large selection of plants, shrubs, and ornamentals will be available for sale. Extension Master Gardeners will be there to assist customers.

“The sale will offer a variety of sun loving plants,” said NNMG President Marge Gibson. “Sun loving plants need a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full direct sunlight each day, but the sun exposure can be broken into parts such as 4 hours in the morning followed by additional hours in direct sun later in the afternoon.”

“Choosing the right plants for a sunny location can be an overwhelming decision because there are so many varieties,” continued Gibson. “There will be several sun-loving perennial flowers and shrubs available at the sale.”

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), not to be confused with the invasive butterfly bush, is a must for any butterfly garden. Butterfly weed unfurls rounded clusters of orange flowers in late spring to early fall. Stokes’ asters (Stokesia laevis) are prized for their midsummer and fall flower show and a favorite stopping point for pollinators. False indigo (Baptisia) blooms in March, April, or early May depending on the species, for a duration of three to six weeks. They are host plants for the larvae of several butterfly species. Once established they are very drought tolerant due to their deep root system. Coneflowers (Echinacea species) bloom heavily from summer to fall.

“A great way to fill in your landscape and give it structure is to add shrubs,” added Michelle Kramer, Chair of the NNMG Plant Sale. “They come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes to meet every need in the landscape.”  

A persistently wet spot may be perfect for buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Its fragrant white flowers appear in mid-summer and are unique, pincushion-like shape. Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), another choice for the wetter parts of your landscape, blooms mid-spring to summer and has great wildlife value. The outstanding red winter stems give this plant its name. Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is a gorgeous deciduous shrub featuring spikes of very fragrant white flowers blooming for four to six weeks in mid to late summer. The flowers literally hum with bees, butterflies, and other native insects at bloom time. Sweet pepperbush grows in full sun to part shade and tolerates both dry and wet soils.

From Deck to Dock:  Plants for a Northern Neck Home — Spring Plant Sale 

Eastern Bumble Bee on a Columbine
Eastern Bumble Bee on a Columbine
Photo credit: Betsy Washington

The Northern Neck Master Gardeners will hold a plant sale at Dug In Farms, 155 Fleets Bay Road, White Stone on April 30 – May 2. The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. A large selection of plants, shrubs, and ornamental will be available for sale.

“It doesn’t matter if your yard is wet, dry, sunny, or shady, we have a plant for you,” said Northern Neck Master Gardener President Marge Gibson. “Representatives from the Northern Neck Master Gardeners and the Northern Neck Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society will be on hand to assist customers as they choose plants best suited for their home’s particular landscape needs.”

“The sale features more than thirty varieties of perennials offering choices for spring, summer, and fall bloom times,” stated Michelle Kramer, Plant Sale Chair. “We’ll also be able to answer questions about living shoreline plants for interested customers.”

“Many of the plants available at the sale are already part of the landscape at the Reedville Living Shoreline Garden, adjacent to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. They have flourished there for the more than 10 years. The public can visit the Reedville Living Shoreline Garden to see the plants in their mature state,” Kramer continued.

Plan now to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain plants with a proven history of success for our area. For more information, visit Masks or other face coverings are required. Physical distancing will be observed.