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.”