A couple of years ago we started a hummingbird garden in memory of my mother-in-law. Many of the plants were chosen specifically to attract hummingbirds, while others were selected to expand it into a wildflower garden, plus we added a young dogwood to round things out. We also picked up a pretty little bird bath since we hadn’t had one for years, not since I accidentally knocked over our cheap one and broke it. A number of birds, such as this American robin, have been enjoying the bath ever since.
Purple coneflower is one of my favorites in our garden and we have a vigorous patch at the edge of our back patio. I deadhead them during the summer to encourage new flowers but at the end of the season I leave them be as I knew birds were eating the seeds in the dried-up cones during the winter — I just didn’t know which ones, as I had never seen any birds on the dead flowers. I had assumed my seed-eaters were finches but just discovered their true identity: dark-eyed juncos.
Junco plumages vary across populations, this is a female of the Oregon race which we commonly see in our backyard, she’s perched on one of the coneflower stems.
I can’t see a bushtit without thinking of Templeton, who died five years ago this month. I used to give him supervised time in our fenced backyard and trained him not to chase the birds that came in to feed. Most birds he didn’t have any trouble resisting but when the diminutive bushtits would descend en masse and attack our suet feeder, he’d start murmuring, his face would twitch, his body would tense, his tail would whip back-and-forth, and I could see in his eyes that he wanted nothing more than to have a go at one of the snack-sized birds.
But the old man loved his outdoor time and knew I’d send him inside if he did, and to his credit he resisted the temptation. Eventually even the bushtits didn’t tempt him much, he was content just to lie in the grass with his white belly to the sun, white paws in the air, and sleep the peace of the just.
This past weekend we went to the nursery to pick up a few plants for the yard. I wanted to replace the lobelia the slugs devoured last fall, and pick up a couple of hostas and maybe a fern for the shady spot out front. We went to pick up a few plants and came home with twelve. And a bird bath. And a little stone owl.
We started a hummingbird garden last fall in memory of my mother-in-law, plus a dogwood for the backyard and a handful of plants for other parts of the garden. This is more of that story. In the first picture, I’ve labeled the plants of the hummingbird garden, as well as whether they were planted last fall or this summer.
I also labeled a few plants in the back I transplanted in previous years. The patch of daisies at the back is where many of my insect pictures are taken, including this ladybug that remains one of my favorite pictures.
When we moved in, this little patch had an overgrown grape vine above and overgrown weeds below. I dug those out and then the raspberries and mint took over until last summer when I cleared it down to bare dirt. And then again and again until it stayed clear enough that I could get the hummingbird garden started.
And while the slugs got the best of the lobelia I planted last fall, I did get to see it bloom, its brilliant red flowers against the maroon stems and leaves, and knew I wanted another. We got two for good measure, we’ll see how long they last. I’m thinking of setting up some really tiny electric fences.
The other plant that appears not to have survived, done in not by slugs but by the long wet spring, is one of the salvias (I haven’t given up complete hope, not yet, and left it in the ground just in case). We picked up another salvia ‘hot lips’ since we like the one we got last fall, as well as another salvia ‘black & blue’ since the black and blue flowers are both arresting and provide a nice change from the red flowers of many of the other plants. And a salvia we haven’t tried before, ‘icing sugar’, with more pinkish flowers.
The bee balm I planted last fall has come back strong so we added a little dwarf beebalm at the far edge. Both varieties of coneflowers survived the winter and spring, the little green coneflower in the front and the ‘hot papaya’ variety behind it (of all the plants I was most worried about that one as it isn’t as hardy, but it has grown like a champ and is about to bloom).
Then there’s the zauschneria, a native to the Western U.S., which has soft leaves and should bloom orange-red flowers in the fall. Our cat Emma was giving it such rapt attention that I thought she was eating it, but on closer inspection she was just sniffing each and every leaf. I thought back to last summer when she discovered the catnip for the first time and had such a wild look in her eyes that I began to fear for the safety of Sam and Scout.
Finally there are the cape fuchsias that I grew by transplanting runners from the plant out front. I planted half a dozen runners in this part of the garden during the fall, hoping one would take, and now five are thriving. I may remove a couple that are in the back since it does spread quickly, but for now it’s filling in the garden nicely.
I’m glad the transplants are doing well because the original cape fuchsia out front, planted by a previous owner, wants full sun but gets full shade. It has never thrived there and was looking rather ragged after the long wet spring, so it was time to dig it up and put in some shade-tolerant plants. This little strip shown below sits beside the steps leading up to the front of the house. The hostas are probably too close together but I didn’t want to leave too much of a gap since it’s such a visible area, I’ll move them later if need be.