Monday May 23, 2016
Nothing says Spring here in the eastern part of the US more than blooming flower gardens. The bursting bright colors are a welcome sight after dull winter skies delivered months of gray and white.
Imagine sipping tea, in the quiet of the morning, in your colorful garden. Your outdoor room, made of stone and earth and open sky, can invite the wings of the most gentle creatures to alight around you, bringing their own iridescence and mosaics to the scene. Not only are flora nature’s way of welcoming a new season, they are invitations to the tiny fauna in search of the sweet nectar the flowers provide. Implement a few gardening tricks and soon butterflies and hummingbirds will come to your backyard escape.
By planting the blooms they like and taking some easy steps to ensure their comfort, you can enjoy a steady stream of these amazing nectar-seekers in your garden.
"The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel." - Katherine Mansfield, in the short story, Her First Ball
Azaleas and other plants from the rhododendron family are very popular garden plants that are known to attract hummingbirds. The fluted flowers are perfect for the hummingbird’s method of collecting nectar with its long, lapping tongue.
Hummingbirds lack a sense of smell. They rely on their excellent color vision to guide them to food sources. Just like with humans, the color red is a hummingbird attention-grabber. Many feeders are red in color for this very reason. A little flash of red is all that’s needed, so if you have a feeder of a different hue, tie a strip of red ribbon to it. A simple sugar solution of 1 part sugar and 4 parts water will work well. Make sure to change it every few days.
Misting water sources are irresistible to hummingbirds. They love to bathe by flying through soft mists. A bird bath basin is easily converted into a misting fountain with a small device found at your local home store or online. It’s a delight to watch these lightning-fast birds whip through the mist, stop, then dive through again.
Be careful with pesticides. Hummingbirds also eat small insects and crawly things. Apply pesticides that will contain mosquitos but not eradicate too many food sources for the hummingbirds. (Another hint about mosquitos: no standing water. Even a water bottle capful of standing water can breed 2000 mosquitos every few days.)
“Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Butterflies and moths are colorful but super-lightweight and thin-winged insects. They enjoy shelter from the wind and harsh sun. Look around your hardscape for shaded and calm places to plant butterfly-friendly blooms.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests plants like Lavender, Mint, Buddleia (literally: “Butterfly Bush”), Pansy, Lilac and Purple Cornflower. Ask at your local plant nursery for suggestions. The common butterfly species in your state may have a preference, and the experts at the garden center can let you know which plant it is. Butterflies also love the color red, but orange, yellow and purples are strong attractions too.
Migratory butterfly paths dot the map up and down the east coast of the US. Do a little research to see if your home is along the way. Water and shade are important to provide, but these tiny flyers also need some resting spots. A few flat stones in full sun will provide a cozy spot for butterflies to rest and warm themselves. Tuck two or three in the grass or the flowerbed close to the plants but where the stones can store up heat from full sun exposure.
Your outdoor living room can now welcome some wonderful little guests you and your family will want to visit with all season.