Habitats & Education

Learn about Nature Camp                                Creating Habitats

The Camp is a coeducational, academic camp that emphasizes education in natural history and environmental studies. For camp and scholarship information click here> Nature Camp.


Stonehouse Elementary School Habitat: A Certified Wildlife Habitat which serves as an outdoor classroom, features over 80 species of Virginia native plants to teach about soil, conservation, habitats, life-cycles, native plants, environmental education, and other curriculum topics.  Click here for more details> Stonehouse Elementary Habitat.


Creating Habitats                              Books          Web Sites

A wildlife habitat provides four basic items:  food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Remember, native and migrating wildlife depend on native plants for survival. Plant Native!

When designing a habitat:

Consider the types of wildlife that you wish to accommodate or attract and create your plan accordingly.  For instance a butterfly habitat will need not only plants that provide nectar for the adult butterflies, but will also need host plants that provide food for the caterpillars, as well as shallow water sources, damp soil which provides minerals for adult butterflies, rocks or plant material for basking in the sun and shelter (which can be in the form of sturdy plants) to which the caterpillar can attach a chrysalis.  A bird habitat would provide food in the forms of seeds, berries and fruit, also remember that birds feed their babies insects that feed on native plants; water for drinking and bathing; shelter and a place for nesting such as in trees, shrubs, bird houses and nesting boxes. 

Consider whether you want a summer habitat or one that provides resources all year long.  If you want an all-season habitat, keep in mind seasonal interest and seasonal needs of the particular types of wildlife that your habitat is for.  For an all-season habitat, you would not only want to plant nectar and fruit producing flowers for the summer, but also provide nectar sources for the spring and fall and have some evergreen trees and shrubs that will offer shelter and beauty in the winter.  Keep in mind that many plants produce seeds and berries that will provide food for wildlife in the fall and/or winter. Choosing a variety of native plants will help provide a habitat that will provide year-long shelter, food and nesting sites for a variety of wildlife species, increasing the biodiversity of the space. 

Use regionally native plants as they provide proper nutrients and other benefits to local wildlife.

Consider the amount of sun and moisture that is available in the various areas of the site and choose plants that will work well in each situation.  There are native plants that will suit just about all possible growing conditions.  See our “List of Native Plants” and find plants that will satisfy your sun, moisture, height, bloom time and color requirements.

Consider the height and width of the plants at maturity when planning a habitat or garden. 

Keep in mind that using odd-numbers of plantings (i.e. 1, 3, or 5…) is more interesting and aesthetically pleasing than planting in even numbers.  So when possible, plant in groups of odd numbers.  For instance plant three coreopsis plants, five butterfly weed plants, one New York ironweed and  three sweet goldenrods.

Provide water with ponds, lakes, streams, birdbaths, water saucers, etc.

Provide shelter with trees, shrubs, hollow logs, a hedgerow, a meadow of wildflowers and grasses, birdhouses, bat houses, and nesting boxes.

Stepping stones invite folks into the habitat/garden as they are hard to resist!   

Written by Jan Newton

Back to Top

Resources for creating habitats:


  • Attracting Birds and Butterflies: How to Plan and Plant a Backyard Habitat. Barbara Ellis.  New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.    This book includes native and non-native plants.
  • Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife. David Mizejewski.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:  Creative Homeowner, 2004.    A National Wildlife Federation book with instructions and ideas for creating and improving wildlife habitats; lists of native plants to the U.S.  Check our lists for plants native to the Gloucester/Newport News/Williamsburg area.
  • Life Cycles of Butterflies. Judy Burris and Wayne Richards.  China:  R.R. Donnelley, 2006.    List native and non-native host plants for caterpillars, nectar plants for butterflies; shows comparison photographs of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adults.  Good for children and adults.

Web Sites

National Wildlife Federation –  backyard habitats


The site contains information about creating wildlife habitats and their benefits, how to certify your wildlife habitat, and educational materials and resources about habitats, native plants and wildlife.


National Wildlife Federation –  schoolyard habitats


The site contains information about creating schoolyard habitats and their benefits, how to certify your schoolyard habitat, and educational materials and resources about habitats, native plants and wildlife.


Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) – native plants regions


The site contains the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s lists of native plants for various regions and environments of Virginia, information about native plants and their benefits, where to buy them; and offers information about invasive aliens.


Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) – habitats


The site contains information about habitats at home and at school, as well as wildlife information and educational resources.


Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) – brochures, publications and links


The Virginia Native Plant Society site offers brochures including Butterfly Gardens, Woodland Gardens, and  Hedgerows; publications including books and guides for plant identification; information about meetings and fieldtrips; and links to other Native Plant Societies and native plant organizations.


Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) – Virginia Naturally


The Virginia Naturally site provides information about environmental education, programs, workshops, and lesson plans, as well as environmental resources and links.


Landscape For Life


Landscape For Life is based on the principles of SITES, The Sustainable Sites Initiative, the nation’s first rating system for sustainable landscapes. SITES is an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden in conjunction with a diverse group of stakeholder organizations.  This site offers information about making your yard and garden a place that benefits wildlife and the web of life.



To offer additions to this list, please contact our Webmaster, Jan Newton.

Back to Top

Learn about Nature Camp       Nature Camp is a coeducational, academic camp that emphasizes education in natural history and environmental studies for students currently in 5th – 12th grades.  It is intended for those with a genuine interest in the out-of-doors and the natural world.  Campers attend class daily, keep a written notebook for each class and are expected to complete a written project for each class.  Nature Camp is located at Vesuvius, VA in the George Washington National Forest.


The John Clayton Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society is now considering candidates for scholarships for the Summer 2014 sessions of Nature Camp.  These 2014 Nature Camp Scholarships are provided by the John Clayton Chapter and by the generous donation of Ralph Will in honor and memory of Carolyn Will and her hard work rescuing native plants with the Wildflower Rescue Team.


2014 Scholarship Application Form       2014 Scholarship Competition Flyer

Deadline for applying is January 6, 2014.


  Photos by Jan Newton  


To view photos taken at Nature Camp 2009, click here > 2009 Photos by Summer Chambers