Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Butterfly Garden, Norfolk Mass.


Four Garden Club of Norfolk (GCN) members were asked by Jessica Watson, Volunteer Coordinator at Stony Brook (SB), to revitalize its butterfly garden. They had worked together on the H. Olive Day Elementary School Butterfly Garden in Norfolk for the past several years and had learned quite a bit about the requirements of butterfly gardening. They meet in June 2014 and decided to take on the project. The garden had been planted in the 1990’s but had been neglected for many years. It was so overgrown that the path inside the garden was not walkable. Most of the nectar and host plants, so vital to butterfly survival, were overgrown by aggressive vines and grasses, and some of the more aggressive perennials, like goldenrod and tansy, had taken over sections of the garden. Visitors to the sanctuary no longer stopped by the garden because they could not navigate through the jungle of vines, branches, nettle, poison ivy and overgrown plants.

Objectives of the Project:

  • Understand the site (soil requirements, light, drainage, water)
  • Clean out aggressive growth; prepare soil and replant native host and nectar plants.
  • Identify and label host and nectar plants.
  • Create a plot plan.
  • Recreate a native butterfly garden, a place where visitors can sit and observe.
  • Provide handicap access to the garden.


Work started on June 27, 2014, when the group met at the SB garden for an initial walkthrough to measure the area, take some photos, start documenting what was in the garden, pull some vines and try to avoid the stinging nettle. Some initial plans were made about what was to be done. In early July, the GCN butterfly group met with Doug Williams, Director of SB, and Jessica Watson for another walkthrough to get their input as to what restrictions Mass Audubon had and what help could be expected by volunteers. The group also met separately with Jessica Watson, who had the original photo album of the garden. Plants were identified as host or nectar.

The first task was to observe. How much sun/shade did the garden get? How dry/wet was the garden? How rich was the soil? What is the blooming period and height of each plant?  Were there plants for all phases of a butterfly’s life? Once these factors were identified, work began to remove aggressive grasses and vines; divide and define nectar plants (e.g., tansy, goldenrod), and pull out invasive plants. This was very hard work. Each section of the garden had to be dug up since many of the invasives and weeds went to a depth of about one foot. The garden was divided into 5 work areas (center circle, north, south, east and west sides). Work started in the center circle. Overgrown areas of goldenrod and tansy had to be dug out and redefined, other perennials located, divided and replanted, and additional native nectar plants (butterfly food) and host plants (caterpillar food) added. Members started two varieties of milkweed – butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – from seeds. The garden already had ample common milkweed plants. Clearing the walkway and areas around the two benches, and cutting back the lilac were the next tasks. The walkway was cleared and the rocks lining the pathway in the garden were reset to widen it so that wheelchairs could navigate the garden. Also the gate was repaired and widened by local Boy Scout Troop #100 to allow for wheelchair access.

BEFORE: Overgrown Garden – path was impassable, vines, invasives and grasses choked out nectar and host plants.

PHASE II (May-November 2015)

The original plot plan that was drawn in 1996 was located, and from that plan many plants were located and identified, however over half of those listed on the plot plan had died out due to strangulation by the more aggressive invasive plants. The second area cleared was the south side. A pick axe had to be used to remove overgrown plants. Compost was dug into the soil before a variety of nectar and host plants were planted. Mulch and permanent plant labels (common and botanical names of each plant) were added. A new plot plan was created and updated as we worked each section of the garden.

As club members worked, many species of butterflies, moths and birds, including hummingbirds, finches and Baltimore Orioles, to name a few, joined us. Also, nature photographers started coming into the garden, and one pointed out the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). After the walkway was cleared, a team of volunteers from EMC Corporation laid a pathway of crushed stone from the Nature Center to the garden and spread crushed stone along the garden’s walkway. The Town of Norfolk certified that the walkway was handicapped accessible.

Volunteers assisted Stony Brook’s part-time caretaker, Matt O’Neil, during several sessions, removing invasives such as bittersweet and porcelainberry, and cutting down the hedge of Asian honeysuckle along the south wall. Work continued by club members during the summer to clear, replant, add compost, add plants and mulch the north, east and west sides of the garden. And newly established plantings had to be watered daily during our long dry summer.      By the Stony Brook Fall Fair in September, the garden was ready to be showcased to the public. All areas had been replanted, defined and labeled. GCN members, with assistance from Madeline Champagne, an expert lepidopterist, and the Norfolk Girl Scout Troup 85103, hosted a table at the fair. The table had something for everyone. There were handouts on “How to help Monarch Butterflies,” and butterfly weed and common milkweed seeds for the adults. For children, there were “Lifecycle of Monarch” coloring pages from monarch watch and origami caterpillars to make. Madeline Champagne explained the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and showed visitors a chrysalis.

AFTER: Plants labeled and crushed stone added to path making it wheelchair accessible. Visitors can now sit back and enjoy the beauty of nature.


Stony Brook Butterfly Garden Plot Plan October 2016
Plot plan of Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Butterfly Garden color-coded to blooming seasons

Chart of Plants and Associated Butterflies at SB Butterfly Garden
List of plants in the Stony Brook Butterfly Garden showing bloom season, height, native or not, host to caterpillars and/or nectar source for butterflies. It is an MS Excel spreadsheet that prints on legal sized paper.


In the August 2015 Dragon Flyer, the Stony Brook newsletter, there was an article entitled: “Norfolk Garden Club adopts Butterfly Garden. Need another reason to come and visit Stony Brook? Come and witness the metamorphosis of our Butterfly Garden!”

The garden has also been praised by many Mass. Audubon sanctuary directors including Doug Williams, Director of Stony Brook, who wrote, ““The butterfly garden at Stony Brook languished for years until members of the Garden Club of Norfolk saw an opportunity to extend their efforts of providing important habitat for butterflies in Norfolk, MA. The actions of Garden Club members have transformed the garden in many more ways than just improving the habitat for butterflies. Their actions have stimulated interest in volunteers and visitors, setting up extended learning opportunities in gardening, butterfly habitat conservation and natural history education for all who visit the Butterfly Garden at Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Don Cannon, administrator for Stony Brook, wrote in his blog, “It’s the smell that first attracts me, and, no doubt, hundreds, if not thousands, of insects on wing. For me it’s an exotic mix of sweet floral bouquet cut by a deep earthy blend of mulch that falls just short of being cloying. On this summer day the odor is irresistible. It must be so for the bees and the butterflies as well. The volunteers from the Norfolk Garden Club have created an oasis within the oasis of the Sanctuary grounds. A living testament to mankind’s need to give order and shape to Nature’s bounty, while at the same time paying homage to her seasonal rhythms and overwhelming beauty…

The path of crushed stone is so artfully laid out that what actually is a closed circle seems a path one could follow to some magical spot in the woods. The benches are inviting, either shaded or in full sun. This is a quiet haven where birds call one another playfully and celebrate summer’s endless fruits. Where children and grownups stroll by, soothed by the deep purple spiderwort or brought to new life by the radiant pink cranesbill…

Another surprise! A small watering hole has been dug out of rock to quench some foraging visitor’s thirst, and then to draw his gaze to the delicate white clusters of astillbe punctuating the green hosta and siberian iris nestled around it as if to listen to another story. It’s the balance of color and green, of twist and turn, of quiet and water tumbling over the falls! It’s the rise and fall of the landscape, the illusion of depth, tucked into a slice of larger trees and picnic grounds. It’s the swell of lazy fence rails in contrast to the perfectly manicured garden. The fact that everywhere I look there’s something new to see…” The entire text can be read at


Goals and Objectives for Phase III (Spring 2016-Fall 2016)

  • Develop a chart that identifies each plant as a host (caterpillar food) and/or nectar (butterfly food) plant, and lists which butterflies (or caterpillars) are attracted to it.  Once created, work with Stony Brook staff on the best way to make this information useful to visitors and campers.
  • Solicit a Stony Brook volunteer to monitor the butterfly populations at Stony Brook, using this garden as one of the sample sites.
  • Submit applications to certify the garden as a Monarch Waystation ( ) and as a Certified Butterfly Garden through the North American Butterfly Association ( ); post the appropriate signage.
  • Complete the renovation of the south side of the garden by:

a) Removing the stumps of the large and invasive Morrow’s honeysuckle bushes that were cut back in 2015, and the excess stones/rubble around these stumps. Rebuilding the soil with compost, adding additional soil, and mulch.

b) Replanting the area with native shrubs and perennials that will support butterflies.

c) Building an arbor in the SE corner to go over the existing bench. This will provide a shaded area for both the bench and some of the existing shade plants in that area, but more importantly, it will provide support for two Pipe Vine (Aristolochia macrophylla) plants, the larval host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

  • Remove the brambles and invasive vines from the triangular area just outside the NE corner of the rail fence.  Replant this area with native shrubs.
  • Modify the current plantings, concentrating on maintaining a plant population with a high proportion of perennials and annuals that are host (larval food) and/or nectar plants for butterflies. Among the more immediate plans, some of the excess hosta, daylily and Siberian iris plantings will be replaced with more suitable, butterfly host and/or nectar plants.
  • Evaluate the quality and quantity of the plantings throughout the garden, and the garden environment as a whole, to ensure that the garden provides an ecosystem that supports butterflies and caterpillars throughout the year.
  • Make a new Butterfly Garden Sign to replace the one attached to the fence on the west side.
  • Renovate the three-bin compost system located just outside the north fence so the GCN and SB volunteers and staff can use it to make compost that is then added to improve the soil in the butterfly garden and other gardens at Stony Brook. Provide information to staff, campers, and visitors to educate them on how the system works, and on the benefits of composting to sustainable/organic gardening practices.


On April 28, 2016 the Garden Club of Norfolk was awarded the Garden Club Grant by the Massachusetts Master Gardeners.  The Garden Club Grant is offered to Massachusetts garden clubs to assist in  support, maintenance or creation of a community gardening project. We are  specifically looking for groups who would like to provide or enhance a community  space that iMMGAs open to the public and that connects people to plants.

This grant will expand and add more pollinators plants to the Butterfly Garden at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk. Grant committee members are Martha Richardson (second row, second left, ), Stephanie Markham (third row, first left), and Emily Nicodemus, Michelle Noonan (not in picture), and Jessica Watson, Volunteer Coordinator at Stony Brook.

Visitors can now sit back and enjoy the beauty of nature thanks to the hard work and combined efforts of the Butterfly Committee; GNC members; a number of volunteer groups; and Stony Brook staff members Doug Williams, Jessica Watson, and Matt O’Neill. We hope the Butterfly Garden will provide a quiet haven for people to relax and observe the flowers and their visitors.

The Garden Club is grateful for the ongoing support of Doug Williams, Director of Stony Brook; Jessica Watson, Volunteer Coordinator; and Matt O’Neill, part-time caretaker at Stony Brook. Their assistance at every step has made this project possible. Horticulture consultants for the project are Betty Sanders (President, The Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts), Doug Williams, and Madeline Champagne (Massachusetts Butterfly Club).plot-plan-photo

Stony Brook Butterfly Garden Plot Plan October 2016
Plot plan of Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Butterfly Garden color-coded to blooming seasons can be downloaded.

Work removing the stumps of the large and invasive Morrow’s honeysuckle bushes that were cut back in 2015, and the excess stones/rubble around these stumps. Rebuilding the soil with compost, adding additional soil, and mulch and replanting the area with native shrubs and perennials that will support butterflies.

Stony Brook Butterfly Garden, summer/fall 2016