Just like the bees busily buzzing in the new gardens, a swarm of volunteers has descended on Cedell Brooks Jr. Park in King George County in recent months and put in place flowers, grasses and trees that showcase the color and benefits of native plants.
Five different gardens—all with plants that grew naturally in the region before they were lost to development—have been arranged next to the walking path that runs along the parking lot. The gardens feature more than 70 species of 1,000 plants that are favorites of birds and insects or known for their ability to resist drought or filter runoff before it enters waterways.
The demonstration garden plots are being dedicated during a ceremony on Saturday, and Peggy Stevens, a retired land conservationist, will give the keynote address. When she recently visited the area for the first time, she was delighted by its scope. Because of space limitations, plots of native plants often are squeezed into small, curbside spaces.
“I just wasn’t prepared for how large the garden is,” Stevens said. “It gives an opportunity to demonstrate a wide variety of types of gardens with native plants whether they’re by a curb, on a slope or in an area where rainwater pools.”
The garden is part of the Plant Central Rappahannock Natives campaign, which promotes the use of plants indigenous to Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. Local native plants are preferred, according to a booklet on Central Rappahannock native species, because they provide food and shelter for more wildlife species, including pollinators, local and migratory birds, insects and mammals.
Collaboration helped the effort blossom, said Kate Gibson, deputy director with the George Washington Regional Commission. The GWRC received multiple grants through the Virginia Coastal Zone Management program to develop the campaign and purchase the plants.
Workers with Artwood Gardens, the Rappahannock Valley Garden Club, King George County and local chapters of master gardeners and master naturalists contributed more than 577 volunteer and staff hours, valued at almost $14,000, to get the beds in place, according to a GWRC press release. Their efforts helped match a grant from the Virginia CMZ program for $24,716.
The display is set up to give visitors a sampling of the type of plants that can be used in meadows or rain gardens, to attract native pollinators or to showcase how native grasses and flowers can survive in the harsh world along hillsides or streets.
The plants also give visitors a sampling of the “spectacular color and texture” they offer with something blooming in every season, Stevens said.
Witch hazel, a small tree, has a yellow flower in the winter. The crested dwarf iris is about 8 inches high and packs the same impact as its cultivated cousin; it blooms in April.
From June to October, the bright yellow petals of the black-eyed Susan will be open for the world to see and its ripened seeds will attract goldfinches and chickadees. In the fall, various types of goldenrod will fill the garden with color.
“I think it shows that using native plants is possible, and that you can get similar rewards in beauty and satisfaction from using native plants that you would using horticultural varieties,” she said.
Cindy Sexton, a master naturalist, and Chris Clarke, director of the King George Department of Parks and Recreation, gave visitors a tour of the gardens last week. As the group walked along the pathway, dozens of bumblebees buried themselves in the white buds of the penstemon flower, a variety also called “beardtongues.” Other insects flitted along the path.
“Something’s working because we didn’t have these little guys before,” Clarke said about the pale blue butterflies fluttering at his feet.
The ceremony to dedicate the gardens is planned at 1 p.m. at the park, off State Route 205 at 11259 Henry Griffin Road in King George. It’s next to the convenience center.
The site of the 33-acre park has come a long way this century. The area had been used as the county dump until the 1990s, when new regulations would have brought about expensive changes to the facility. Instead, King George opened a new landfill at the current site, off State Route 3, and eventually removed all the trash that had been deposited off Henry Griffin Road.
Former Supervisor Cedell Brooks Jr. had campaigned to turn the dump into a park, and Shiloh Park opened in 2014. Three years later, when Brooks retired after 26 years on the Board of Supervisors, the county renamed the park in his honor.
“They’ve done such wonderful things with this park,” Sexton said about the playground and ball fields, which get a lot of traffic. “It’s close to a lot of things in King George, yet it’s kind of hidden away.”