Become a

The Bumblebee Garden

In fall 2019, The Mariners’ Museum and Park expanded its mission of connecting people to the world’s waters by building a pollinator garden. Nestled in a cozy green space near the Museum’s business entrance, the Bumblebee Learning Garden is an inviting destination for visitors to explore.

Garden Purpose

The Bumblebee Learning Garden’s dual purpose is to provide healthy habitats for local pollinators, and to teach the community about the wonders of native, urban green spaces through curiosity and discovery.

The Museum’s mission of connecting people to the world’s waters is an important element of the garden itself. Clean water is connected to nearly all aspects of healthy ecosystems, including a small pollinator garden. Healthy coastal environments, such as the Chesapeake Bay, often depend upon the conscious actions and solutions of maritime communities. We are connected to the health of the world’s waters and are therefore an integral part of the story of hope and change. As environmental stewards, we hold a great responsibility to provide a safe habitat for all living creatures who call our Park and Lake home.

What’s the Buzz in the Garden?

We are proud to share that the Bumblebee Learning Garden has a great variety of amazing native plants.
Below is a gallery of plants currently in the Bumblebee Learning Garden. Download Map Key Guide pdf here

Map Key



Wild bergamot (bee balm)
Monarda fistulosa


Small hairystem spiderwort
Tradescantia hirsuticaulis

Virginia spiderwort
Tradescantia virginiana

Blazing star
Liatris spicata


Sweet goldenrod
Solidago odora


Black-eyed susans
Rudbeckia hirta
Blue wood aster
Symphyotrichum cordifolium


Hollow Joe-Pye weed
Eutrochium fistulosa
Coastal plain joe pye weed
Eutrochium dubium
Blue vervain
Verbena hastata


Aromatic aster
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Tall coreopsis
Coreopsis tripteris


Red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis


Calico beardtongue
Penstemon calycosus


Purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Blue wood aster
Symphyotrichum cordifolium


White turtlehead
Chelone glabra

Great blue lobelia
Lobelia siphilitica

Downy skullcap
Scutellaria incana


Tall larkspur
Delphinium exaltatum

Downy skullcap
Scutellaria incana


Creeping phlox
Phlox stolonifera

Downy wood mint
Blephilia ciliata

Mountain mint
Pycnanthemum muticum

Wild bergamot (bee balm)
Monarda fistulosa

Native plants were a must in the garden. Some of the plants have an additional benefit in that they are larval hosts for butterflies. Below is a list of the plants in the garden and what butterflies use them as larval hosts. According to the Piedmont Environmental Council (click on the blue link to see more), our garden features seven larval host plants.

Check out the plants and the butterflies they are host to:


Plant Common Name Butterfly or Moth Common Name
Purple coneflowerSilvery checkerspot
BeardtonguesCommon buckeye
TurtleheadsBaltimore checkerspot
AstersPearl crescent and silvery checkerspot
SpiderwortsCommon buckeye
Joe pye weedsPainted lady
ColumbinesSpring Azur



NEW! Interactive educational sign

If you visit the Bumblebee Learning Garden you will see our new interactive educational sign! The sign was designed by Museum staff and was funded by Dominion Energy.  The artwork was done by Mandy Louise-Houston and Betty Gatewood.

Community Partners and Garden Creation

The Bumblebee Learning Garden is a collaborative effort between The Mariners’ Museum and Park and several national, state, and local community-focused organizations.

A grant from Dominion Energy will support the installation of educational signage at the garden along with family and student engagement opportunities.

A grant from The Nature Conservancy inspired the Museum’s Education Department to create the Nature Explorers! outdoor education program for students between kindergarten and third grade. The program development resulted in the idea of a pollinator garden as one of three sensory stations within Nature Explorers!

The Museum’s Park and Education staff
The staff collaborated on the garden design and creation. Raised garden beds and pavers were an important design feature of the garden to create an accessible green space not only for students but for all visitors. Additionally, the pavers were filled with stone dust so water can seep through the space between the pavers to prevent excessive runoff in the Park during rain events.

Local Eagle Scout
Upcycled materials were utilized to build some aspects of the garden. The garden’s foundation (pavers and raised beds) was built by a local Eagle Scout with the guidance of the Museum’s Park Department staff in fall of 2019. The Eagle Scout sourced new materials for the garden locally from donors and sponsors for this project. The Eagle Scout, a group of volunteers, and the Museum’s Park Department worked very efficiently to make the lovely garden come together in a short period of time.


Sassafras Farms
The majority of the plants in the garden (all native to Virginia or this region) were donated by Sassafras Farms in Gloucester, VA. These plants are not only wonderful for producing pollen and nectar, but some of them are larval hosts for butterflies. (See the What’s in the Garden section for more information.)

Newport News logo

City of Newport News
The rich, leaf compost in the beds was donated by the City of Newport News Recovery Operations Center. Additionally, to keep our watershed and pollinators healthy, there are no harmful chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers used in the garden.

2019-2020 Third Grade Class
In October, the 2019-2020 L.F. Palmer Elementary third-grade classes became the stars of the garden show! Over four days, the students planted the flowers in the garden with assistance from the Peninsula Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, who are also helping the Museum maintain the beauty and health of the garden year-round. The hands-on experience helped students connect the dots between how the living and nonliving things within our ecosystems all work together.

In regards to garden maintenance, The Peninsula Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists organization is the Museum’s main partner in helping with garden upkeep. Maintenance includes weeding, watering, possibly replacing plants in the future, and other important tasks to keep the garden healthy.

Garden News and Recognition: 

In spring 2021, The Mariners’ Museum and Park won the Virginia Green Travel Leader award for the Bumblebee Learning Garden! Click HERE to learn more about the Virginia Green Travel Star awards.





Serving our Students Through Outdoor Education

The Museum’s Education Team will continue to use the garden as a space for curiosity and hands-on exploration. Our student enrichment programs are driven by four main goals:

  • Provide equal access to a museum and park experience for students across Hampton Roads
  • Engage students multiple time in the academic career
  • Improve learning outcomes for students
  • Encourage a life-long appreciation for learning

The Bumblebee Learning Garden is a testament to these goals. The garden provides a space for students to learn how humans can make positive impacts on the environment by creating and sustaining native gardens and forests in urban areas. As they progress through school, elementary students who participated in the Nature Explorers! program will return to the Museum with their classmates or families and witness the growth of the garden. The garden is a fantastic green space and tool that will continue to help students appreciate the wonders of nature and learning now and in the future. Expanding our selection of Park-focused programs is a top priority for the Museum’s Education team. Be sure to keep an eye on our website for more information on new outdoor education programs.


How to be Involved

Help Keep it Clean

Anyone can visit the garden, and that means we need you to help us keep the garden and Park in tip-top shape! We encourage visitors to come and enjoy the seasonal splendors the garden has to offer, along with the beauty of the Park itself year-round. Please remember, a lot of effort is put into the creation and maintenance of this garden, and all other spaces around the Park and Lake. Please practice “Leave No Trace” principles, three of them are explained below, and consider the phrase “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

  • Leave what you find – Please do not take anything from the garden, pick the flowers, or dig in the garden.
  • Respect Wildlife – Please do not feed or harm wildlife, including pollinators, birds, turtles, deer, etc.
  • If you create trash, please pack out the trash or find a nearby trash can. Leave the garden and Park cleaner than when you found it. Please do not leave dog waste in the garden or around the Park.
  • If you need assistance in the garden, cross the street to the business entrance and ask the wonderful security staff for help or any other questions. You can also call: (757) 591-7777.

Contribute to Community Science

The Bumblebee Learn Garden’s purpose is to encourage curious discovery for all of our visitors. We invite you to take an active role in discovering and observing natural phenomenon in our Park by contributing to our community science efforts. Two of the biggest efforts for community science for general Park users are recording sightings on iNaturalist and eBird mobile apps. Please visit iNaturalist (click here) and eBird (click here) to help contribute sightings to expand the Park’s data overall.

The more we know about our Park, the better we can help to manage it in the present and future.