This Victorian cottage garden delights visitors daily at New Jersey’s Hereford Inlet Lighthouse. At the southeast corner of the Jersey shore, in the picturesque community of North Wildwood, the lighthouse grounds display the gardening genius of designer and caretaker Steve Murray.
Steve designed the lighthouse gardens in 1986 and now spends volunteer hours tending his creation. The plot’s care precludes chemicals. “The caterpillar munching on parsley in June may be the black swallowtail we look forward to seeing later,” he says.
Built in 1874, the lighthouse has undergone a series of improvements, especially in the last two decades. Steve wanted to design a small garden prior to the property’s public opening in 1986. “I had no great plans to do much, just install a front lawn and plant a cottage garden of annuals at the entryway along with some roses,” Steve says.
Coneflowers, a perennial stalwart of the garden, stand 2 to 3 feet tall and sway in the ocean breeze. Today, the not-quite-1-acre lot features “little garden rooms separated by plants, shrubs, and trees, where people can stroll around and turn a corner to discover what comes next,” Steve says.
Just steps from the ocean, pansies, impatiens, and dianthus thrive. Tulips, anemones, crocus, scillia, hyacinths, and daffodils dot the grounds. Hollyhocks, with paperlike blooms in shades of pale pink, lemon yellow, and deep magenta, tower nearly 10 feet.
Hedges fence in the fragrant herb garden, which brims with lavender, rosemary, scented geraniums, and pineapple sage. Japanese black pines stand guard with indigenous shrubs such as bayberry, beach plus, and viburnum.
“I wish we had a larger area for our shade garden,” Steve says. “It surprises people when they see the plants and color found there.” Pink-and-white bleeding heart, coralbells, hostas, red-leafed caladium, and green-and-gold variegated liriope dazzle the eye.
Most coleus prefer shady spots, but this sun-loving variety can take the heat. Two hundred-plus plant varieties and thousands of individual flowers fill the lighthouse garden.