An Alameda Garden: If You Build It, They (Hummingbirds, That Is) Will Come

Friday, May 14, 2010

If You Build It, They (Hummingbirds, That Is) Will Come

When I moved into my house eight years ago, the garden was pretty much a blank slate. The front yard contained a horrible lawn and one small, sickly rosebush. The backyard contained an even worse lawn and three large potted palms that never, ever had more than three fronds each and that were a magnet for some really disgusting bugs. That was it. Yes, it was low-maintenance. It was also not pretty to look at. And worse, there was absolutely no wildlife around. It was as if my property was a dead zone for birds, butterflies, and bees.

I particularly missed having birds around. Because I had cats, I didn't want to attract a lot of sparrows and similar small birds to my yard by setting out bird feeders. I also knew that bird feeders were a good way to attract squirrels, and I didn't want to encourage the squirrel population explosion that we are experiencing in this area. But I was hopeful that I could get hummingbirds to stop by for a visit, given the right inducements. I knew that they were fast enough that would stand a better chance of evading the cats, and they would be attracted by plants alone without having to put out feeders and seed.

It took two to three years for the hummingbirds to become regular visitors, but now I can spot them almost every day in my garden. Although it is often said that hummingbirds are attracted to red, I've found that they're happy with flowers of any color, and since they have no sense of smell, fragrance is not an issue either. What does seem to matter is the shape of the flower. They are very attracted to flowers with a tubular shape and because of their agility they can seek out those flowers on tall vines as easily as they can in low potted shrubs.

Here are a few of the plants that they've responded to best in my garden:
  • Salvia
  • Fuchsia
  • Cuphea
  • Foxglove
  • Anigozanthos
  • Mimulus
Just a few pots of these plants can make a big difference in attracting hummingbirds to a garden. Once they know you've set out a buffet for them, they'll keep coming back again and again. I love watching them dart around my garden and hover just a foot or two away from my head as I'm watering. I see them not just as creatures of beauty and grace, but also as a sign that my garden is a healthier place, and no longer the dead zone it was a few years ago.

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  1. I love the story of how you took a neglected yard and have made it into a lush garden!! We had the squirrel problem at the old place so now here, I too have been putting out fuchsias [hanging variety] just for the hummers. They love them and so do the other little songbirds, who love to hop about in the pots... so cute! Thanks for your inspiring story! :D

  2. How wonderful. Despite its bell shape, I've found Abutilons to also be quite attractive to the little cuties. Too bad the aphids like them, too.

  3. Anonymous7:14 PM

    I love it. We have hummingbirds in the neighborhood, but only just started seeing them drinking from some of our flowers. Always a treat to see them hoover in mid air. Matti


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