2020 VIRTUAL Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden

2020 VIRTUAL Tours of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden (43 Years in the Making)

Our wildlife garden has evolved over the last 43 years from a lawn and very few plantings (a Lilac bush and Day Lilies) to probably 100+ native plants and many different components (perennial garden, pocket meadow, shade trees and gardens, wildlife ponds, native woodland, living fences, etc.)  that all lure in and benefit wildlife.  Read this brief history to learn more.

This was the 4th year I led tours of my wildlife garden for CU Maurice River, a non-profit organization doing great work in South Jersey.  With Covid-19, the 2020 Tour was filmed on July 2nd and folks could join the tour VIRTUALLY on Tues., July 14, 2020.

If you missed this garden tour, there is a 2nd opportunity to join me for this Virtual Tour.  It will be one of many fun offerings as part of the 2020 Wheaton Arts Virtual ECO WEEK.  Details follow:

2020 Wheaton Arts Virtual ECO WEEK

of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden
40+ Years in the Making

Friday, August 21, 2020
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

From the comfort of your home

Registration for this event is FREE!   But you need to click on the Registration Link HERE.  This Virtual Tour (a narrated video tour) will be followed by a Live Q & A session and is sponsored by CU Maurice River.

After you register, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining this selected Zoom webinar. Participants may join and rejoin the webinar at any time during the scheduled presentation.

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About the VIRTUAL Tour of Pat Sutton’s Private Wildlife Garden in Goshen, NJ (Cape May Co.), largely a NATIVE PLANT OASIS (filmed on July 2, 2020)

I’ll bet many of us have gardened more than normal this year, the year of Covid-19. Our wildlife garden and working in it has kept me sane during these uncertain times. I must give some credit for my sanity too to all the garden visitors I’ve discovered, learned about, and enjoyed this year. There have been so many fun sightings perhaps because we’ve been home a lot, out in the garden more, and savoring more. I hope this has been the case for you too.

I enjoyed sharing my garden with CU Maurice River on July 14th and am looking forward to sharing it again during the Wheaton Arts ECO WEEK.  If you should join me and see the footage, keep in mind it hasn’t always looked like it does now. Like each and every one of us, I have made some serious mistakes over the years and paid dearly for them. I love sharing my garden, not only because it is packed with Nature Happenings, but also because in doing so, I might help save others some of the angst and frustration I went through. I love sharing my garden also because I have learned so much about wildlife gardening and how wildlife responds to habitat. Truly, create it and they will come!

We see so much in our little 1/2 acre for many reasons. We barely have any grass left to mow. There are robust native perennials and understory trees and shrubs under all of our trees, not lawn. Rather than fight their thugishness, I am thrilled when shade-loving perennials I’ve planted like Common Blue Wood Aster seed further and further out into the lawn each year. More native plants and less lawn equals more habitat. One section of what had been lawn is an itty bitty meadow instead (12 feet x 12 feet). The meadow of native grasses and perennials compliments the formal perennial garden and hosts nectaring and egg-laying butterflies and other pollinators, nesting Box Turtles, and more! Our woods take up about one-third of our property and are filled with native trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses, a sizable brush pile and many smaller brush piles, a butterfly house (made of overlapping branches with roofing shingles in between to keep weather out), and a seating area that is always cooler than the garden and overlooks a busy Hummingbird feeder (Meghan got footage of a hungry female during our virtual tour from this seating area). Many of the butterflies that nectar in our garden lay their eggs on native trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines in our woods. The woods were an impenetrable wall of Multiflora Rose until 2009 when we reclaimed them, so many of the native trees and shrubs are eleven years old. In ridding the woods of invasives the seed bank of natives had a chance. The transformation has been complete, but does take routine vigilance because the very birds we attract are eating invasives elsewhere and sprinkling seeds of those invasives in our woods and elsewhere on our property.

So, join me if you can for this 2nd airing of a 2020 Virtual Tour of my Private Wildlife Garden. CUMR’s Meghan Thompson did the filming.  I’ll be narrating the garden tour, which will include some of my favorite garden still shots from this spring and past magic moments. This virtual presentation will showcase many of the pollinators and sights from this season.

You may also want to download and print the latest update of my “Gardening for Pollinators” Handout (CLICK HERE), which includes lots of sage advice, Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month, and sources of helpful signage.  It will prove very helpful during the Virtual Tour and afterwards!

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For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County  

Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County.  I saw these tours as one of the best ways  to “grow” more wildlife gardeners.  You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.

Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director.  Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.

Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.

Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours.  The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew.  Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day.  I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.

On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).

And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.


Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below.  These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.

  • South Tour (Cape Island: Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Lower Township)
  • Mid-County Tour (North Cape May, Villas, and Erma)
  • North Tour (Cape May Court House, Goshen  . . . including my own garden, Dennisville, Eldora, South Seaville, and Ocean View)

2014 Wildlife Garden Tours

Monarch on Meadow Blazing Star with Purple Coneflowers beyond (both are Chocolate Cakes)
Monarch on Meadow Blazing Star with Purple Coneflowers beyond (both are Chocolate Cakes, irresistible to pollinators)

This is the 23rd year I’ve been leading these tours of private backyard wildlife gardens.  And they just keep getting yummier and yummier!

Mark your calendar with the following dates & plan to join me for one, several, or all NINE of the 2014 “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” (pdf)  that I will again be leading for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.

Alert your friends, family, neighbors, … anyone you’re trying to HOOK on wildlife gardening!

We’ll be visiting 18 gardens over a 3-day period – six delightful and unique gardens each day.  These wildlife-friendly gardens offer so many ideas in the way of design, use of space, plant combinations, native plants that are lovely AND beneficial to wildlife, “chocolate cake” nectar plants, key caterpillar plants, great native shrub ideas, “how to” create your own meadow ideas, garden accents and features like misters, dragonfly ponds, arbors . . .

Imagine getting a glimpse into private backyard wildlife gardens, interacting with the artists who created them, having each and every garden and wildlife question answered, enjoying it with a group of fellow wildlife gardeners, all while being entertained by buzzing and hungry and feisty hummingbirds, dazzling dragonflies, glittering butterflies and other pollinators!  Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it ? !

Enjoy a SNEAK PEAK (South Tour, North TourMid-County Tour) into some of the gardens we’ve visited in the past.  I’ve updated these links to include many new gardens added in recent years.

“Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” (pdf)

with NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May

1600 Delaware Ave., Cape May, NJ 08204



Tours of Private BUTTERFLY Gardens — 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Friday, July 18: SOUTH “Cape Island”

Saturday, July 19: MID-COUNTY “North Cape May to Rio Grande”

Sunday, July 20: NORTH “Goshen to Dennisville”

Pollinators galore (Sachem and Bumble Bee) are drawn to Purple Coneflower

More butterfly and hummingbird gardens are tucked into Cape May County than probably anywhere else in the country. Mid-July is the time of peak butterfly diversity and numbers. Gardens look completely different from one month to the next (so seriously consider all 9 tours). Learn the magic combination of native nectar plants and caterpillar plants that makes a garden especially attractive to butterflies. Design ideas and new wildlife plants will be showcased while tour participants are entertained by a blizzard of butterflies and hummingbirds.


Tours of Private HUMMINGBIRD Gardens — 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Friday, August 15: NORTH “Goshen to Dennisville”

Saturday, August 16: SOUTH “Cape Island”

Sunday, August 17: MID-COUNTY “North Cape May to Rio Grande”

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird nectaring on Bee Balm

At the peak of Ruby-throated Hummingbird migration, we’ll savor an array of diverse gardens that have hosted nesting hummingbirds since May and are now drawing in dozens of migrants. Native nectar plants, healthy insect populations, water sources, and adequate cover are key elements of each garden.



Tours of Private MONARCH (butterfly) Gardens — 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 19: MID-COUNTY “North Cape May to Rio Grande”

Saturday, Sept. 20: NORTH “Goshen to Dennisville”

Sunday, Sept. 21: SOUTH “Cape Island”

Monarchs and a hungry Preying Mantis have come to dine  on New England Aster

At the peak of Cape May County’s world-famous fall Monarch migration, tour diverse gardens that have hosted Monarchs since May. Each features native nectar plants and as many as five different kinds of milkweed (used by Monarchs for egg laying to create the next generation). With the downward spiral of the Monarch population, time will tell, but we hope our gardens will be hosting Monarchs and Monarch eggs, caterpillars, and maybe even a chrysalis. The complex Monarch migration will be both explained and enjoyed.  Fall gardens will be full of other butterflies and many interesting pollinators.


Gardening naturalist and author, Pat Sutton, leads these tours, which include her own garden in Goshen (North tour). Bring lunch since the group will eat in one of the gardens.

If some of you are keen to create a butterfly & hummingbird garden, be sure to download the article & plant list I wrote / created:

Limit: 25 per tour.
Nine Tours / Cost per tour: $35 members (NJ Audubon), $45 nonmembers.
(Join three tours at a discounted rate of $90 members, $115 nonmembers.)
These tours require preregistration with payment.

Registration: you may register by phone at 609.898.8848 with a credit card or send payment to the Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (noting which tours and full names, addresses, and phone numbers of registrants).

NCCM reserves the right to cancel programs, and refunds are available only if NCCM cancels the event. Walk-ins are welcome on a space-available basis. Become a member of NJAS and receive discounts in the gift shop and on many programs.