Gardening: Summer Tour – by Marcus Brandon Gray – Part 2


Musconetcong Watershed Association

Many people may not realize but North Jersey is characterized by the same Appalachian Mountains as western Virginia that stretch all the way to Georgia and Alabama. In fact, North Jersey and Southwest Virginia are in the same Appalachian Bird Conservation Region (28, The Musconetcong River occupies an area dominated by maple, white ash and sycamore along its banks and floodplain up to forested ridges with a uniform canopy of hardwoods. The area has invasive species issues with multiflora rose, Japanese knotweed, barberry and more.

The native plant gardens and meadow of the MWA’s River Resource Center ( in Asbury, NJ are worth a visit! Dedicated Trustees and Volunteers for the organization host a Native Plant Sale every year drawing plant material from multiple local nurseries that do not use systemic pesticides which are harmful to pollinators. Since construction of the RRC, the gardens surrounding the building have featured a wide variety of plants that bloom throughout the season. The site features a 10-year old riparian buffer and multiple beds that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Some species are a single individual plant within hundreds of plants of different species. Many of the plants found on the site are perennial and woody but there is plenty of herbaceous growth. The meadow below the RRC has been a work in progress for 7 years with native, herbaceous perennials being interplanted with grasses. A mowed trail and benches provide easy access and the ability to sit and enjoy all the activity!

I have reached out to the primary people responsible for management of the garden and have canvassed them to certify through NABA. It would be a great addition to the program.


Powhatan Wildlife Management Area

Central Virginia is where the hardwood forest and horse farms transition to pine plantations and row crops of the Tidewater Region. 40 minutes west of Richmond on US 60, the area still retains rural charm in the face of ever-expanding sprawl. The property gets a good amount of use year round due to its proximity to the capital city. There is a nice loop trail that takes you across the berm of one lake on the way out and a second on the way back. All the while you traverse a white oak-dominated forest with enough light on the trails to promote understory growth.

I arrived a few days after a heavy rain so depressions in and adjacent to the dirt access roads has exposed mud in the 90-degree heat. The exposed mud was very attractive to butterflies. Simulating this process in your garden could earn you more butterfly attention! There were dozens and dozens of butterflies “puddling” from Eastern Tiger Swallowtails to many American Snouts.

The amazing find was a buttonbush on the edge of one of the lakes with 10 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails nectaring on it. The plant was moving with large butterflies! If you have a water feature in your garden or have other appropriately low, wet places – consider adding a buttonbush.


Drew University

In mid-August, I found myself on campus of Drew University in Madison, NJ. Between the Hall of Sciences Greenhouse and route 124 (Madison Ave.) there is a lovely little pollinator garden. This suburban oasis features park-like oaks that leave gaps large enough periodically to situate gardens like this in full sun. The bed is comparable in size to something a homeowner might create (about 1/16th to 1/8th of an acre). Interplanted throughout the simulated prairie are Milkweed, Coneflower, Bee Balm, Black-eyed Susan, partridge pea, small sunflowers and several more in smaller amounts. The site was simply buzzing with native bees and wasps – crawling with beetles. There were no butterflies seen but I know some had to have been there earlier in the season when the coneflowers weren’t as far gone. Multiple species within the planting were past but there were late bloomers coming on.

At the entrances to two enclosures (fenced to prevent deer browse), Faculty and students have planted a variety of native woodland and woodland opening species to increase richness and study. The planting just within Hepburn Woods was truly spectacular in relation to its size the day I visited. Joe Pye Weed was in full force and extremely active with butterflies and bees. Pokeweed, cardinal flower, tall phlox and dozens of natives are situated in a forest clearing with a wide bed of mulch as you approach. I saw 10 Silver-Spotted Skippers, 2 Cabbage Whites (athletic fields are nearby), 1 Pipevine Swallowtail and 1 Eastern Tiger Swallowtail during my brief trip.

At the time of writing, I began the process of communicating with Drew University Staff about NABA certification and other partnership opportunities. I look forward to visiting more gardens for the remainder of the butterfly flight season. Hopefully, I’ll run into some of you in the field!