Brinkley Nature Preserve gets hundreds of native plants

EASTERN SHORE POST /STEFANIE JACKSON Martina Coker oversees volunteers planting a wildflower habitat at the Edward S. Brinkley Nature Preserve in Northampton County on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

Eastern Shore Virginia Master Gardeners recently upgraded Northampton County’s Edward S. Brinkley Nature Preserve, near Oyster, with hundreds of native plants that will provide habitats for wildlife.

The wildflower habitat project is “an experiment to see how it will go without a whole lot of maintenance,” Martina Coker said of planting an educational area for visitors of the preserve.

The project was designed by master gardener Jane McKinley, who is also a master naturalist. She and master gardener Phil Goetkin worked together to select the native plants for the project.

A team of volunteers set out to introduce 900 plants to the nature preserve on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

The master gardeners planted three types of grasses: little bluestem, big bluestem, and Indiangrass. They also planted around a dozen types of wildflowers, such as goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, sunflower, milkweed, coneflower, and New England aster.

The plants were bought from two nurseries that specialize in native plants — North Creek Nurseries, in Pennsylvania, and New Moon Nurseries, in New Jersey, Goetkin said.

The wildflower habitat is expected to attract pollinators, like monarch butterflies, which prefer milkweed. Mountain mint also is “amazing for butterflies,” Coker said.

In addition to providing shelter for small animals, the habitat will provide food for birds like sparrows and finches, which can eat seeds that the plants produce, Coker said.

The project began with a visit to the preserve in January. Before the project was designed, Virginia Tech completed soil testing at the site.

Due to drought, the master gardeners have been “babying” the plants by using compost and adding lime to the soil to provide extra nutrients, Coker said.

The master gardeners hope that once the plants are established, the wildflower habitat will be a low-maintenance feature of the preserve.

The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission and Northampton County contributed funding to the project, which also includes educational signs throughout the preserve.

Ann Quigley, a master naturalist, said there are more than 6,000 master gardeners who volunteer across Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

The Eastern Shore Virginia Master Gardeners offer “something for everyone,” she said.

For information about upcoming trainings and how to join the Eastern Shore Virginia Master Gardeners, visit

To learn more about the Eastern Shore Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists, visit

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