Six on Saturday: Flowers for Hummingbirds

Native Hibiscus moscheutos

The birds awakened me again this morning at first light.  They sit outside my window having animated conversations with one another about the promises of a new day.  It was a conversation I couldn’t ignore, and they gradually coaxed me up and out to join them in the garden before the sun rose above the tree-tops and the temperature rose with it.

July in Virginia always presents a bit of a challenge, to function through relentless heat and humidity.  Our ‘record breaking’ heat these last few years has required us to learn new ways to cope, while still enjoying the sweetness July offers.  You may be wondering what sweetness that might be, when three minutes out of doors during most of the day leaves one drenched in perspiration and scratching a new mosquito bite or three.

But if one can get past the physical discomfort of ‘air you can wear,’ there are many pleasures waiting for the bold, the stubborn and the inspired.  Most grow on a vine or shrub of some sort, like tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, melons, grapes and fresh squash.  But others are pleasures for the soul, like cooling breezes, afternoon rains, the twilight music of cicadas and frogs, and the flights of hummingbirds.

The rain missed us yesterday.  Which meant that I needed to thoroughly water pots and newly planted parts of the garden first thing this morning.  And I was spraying a wide area of newly planted Salvias when I heard the buzz of hummingbird wings.  A little green jewel of a bird flew in for a sip from the intense blue flowers of Salvia ‘Mystic Spires.’   I watched in fascination as it moved delicately from one tiny flower to another.  But then it decided that the cool spray from my hose was even more delicious than the Salvias’ nectar.

The little one landed on the leaf of a nearby shrub to preen and posture and extend its neck and wings for full effect under the spray.  It shook its wings, turned around, flew to a nearby leaf, and started the performance all over again.  If you’ve ever been, or parented a teen girl, you might get the resemblance. 

The tiny hummingbird was in no hurry to leave this rare treat of cool mist on a hot July morning.  It moved from leaf to leaf, flew back down for another sip or two from the Salvia, and returned to its perch, before I shifted the spray to the next set of plants and got on with my work.

We have several hummers who frequent our flowers.  I try to position some of their favorites near our windows so we can enjoy them from the cool comfort of our indoors.  But it isn’t the same as hearing them fly past one’s ear on the way to their next sip of sweetness.

Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ grows with Lantana at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, to the delight of hummingbirds living there.

Many sincere hummingbird lovers will tell you that these little birds prefer red flowers.  That may be so, but I watch them sip as happily from blue, orange, purple, white or pink ones.  A flower we might think is too tiny to attract their interest delights them as much as a large one… maybe even more.  With small flowers, they have more available in a compact space.  It takes less energy to fly from flower to flower when they are all close together.

I gave up on hummingbird feeders years ago.  I worried I wasn’t keeping the feeders clean enough.  It was one more chore to add to my list to keep them cleaned and filled, and to discourage the ants that always found them.  So much easier to plant a basket of delicious flowers, offering nutritious nectar, for hummingbirds and bees.  And we enjoyed their beauty, too.

Hummingbirds make their first appearance here in late March or early April, and they may be spotted deep into October.  So, it takes a well-planned sequence of flowers to support them.    

Canna lilies tower over Verbena bonariensis, Salvias and other flowers hummingbirds enjoy. Williamsburg Botanical Garden

Here is a short list of a few of their favorites:

Any Verbena from the ‘annuals’ I grow in hanging baskets to the tall Brazilian Verbena bonariensis.  This includes any Lantana, since Lantana is a member of the Verbena family.  If you plant just Verbena and Lantana, the hummingbirds will find you.

They also love Canna lilies.  Cannas offer larger flowers, but they are still a cluster of lots of deep-throated blossoms, close together on a stalk.  Hedychium, ginger lilies, have a similar flower structure.  Our white butterfly ginger lilies will begin blooming next month and continue blooming until late October, when the hummers should be migrating, anyway.

Salvias also delight hummingbirds.  Red Salvia coccinea is a particular favorite, but they visit ‘Mystic Spires’ with as much enthusiasm.  There are many, many beautiful choices of ornamental Salvias, and I’ve not yet found one that hummingbirds don’t visit.

These Verbena and Pelargoniums attract hummingbirds and butterflies to visit near a window.

Huge, gorgeous Hibiscus flowers hold a special fascination for pollinators.  Whether you offer tree Hibiscus syriacus, native Hibiscus moscheutos, an herbaceous fancy hybrid with flowers the size of dessert plates, or even a tropical Hibiscus; hummingbirds will visit them.

Hummingbirds visit petunias, Pelargoniums, morning glories. bean and pea flowers, and Penstemon. They frequent the tiny flowers of Heuchera, Hosta, basil and so many more.  What wondrous creatures that spend so much of their lives visiting flowers and sipping nectar!

Watching hummingbirds nectar, preen and fly is reason enough to tend the flowers that attract them.  Even on a muggy July morning, when the sun rises above the treetops and swallows the morning shade way too quickly; with gardening chores left to do.  Tending a garden filled with birds, dragonflies, butterflies and the occasion turtle or toad is reward enough to persevere through sultry summer days, in the good company of wildness.

Verbena bonariensis

With appreciation to The Propagator who hosts Six on Saturday each week

4 comments

  1. You’re growing some beautiful plants there and its lovely to learn about which ones the hummingbirds prefer. Sadly we don’t get humming birds in the UK but there are plenty of insects and other birds to look at.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Katharine. You’ve taught me something today, as I didn’t realize that hummingbirds don’t make it to the British Isles. I didn’t have a camera in my pocket yesterday, sadly, as it would have been a lovely photo to catch and share as the little bird bathed in the spray. Thank you for visiting and for leaving a note, WG

      Like

    • Thanks so much. Hummingbirds are always a happy surprise here, too. Like so many other creatures, these last decades have presented many challenges for them, too. We try to offer a safe environment for them to raise young and have what they need during the summer months.

      Liked by 1 person

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