Friday, July 29, 2011

Attracting Hummingbird "Tweets"

Long before there was the social media phenomenon called "Twitter," there were avian wonders called hummingbirds, who chase each other through the air, happily "tweeting" at each other. If you would like to "follow" the antics of these charming little creatures, you don't need a computer, a smart phone or a Twitter account. You just have to offer them a few good reasons to visit your neighborhood.

You could set up hummingbird feeders, of course. But it is much more fun to add plants to the garden that will attract the "hummers."

Here are a few suggestions:
Hummingbirds like tube-shaped flowers and apparently are partial to the color red. So this cape fuschia (Phygelius sp.) is a popular choice for hummingbird gardens. Don't confuse this sun-loving plant with hardy and annual fuschias (see below) which are rather more shade-tolerant and belong to a different family, botanically speaking.
Here are the blooms of a hardy fuschia (Fuschia magellanica).

Alstroemeria, also called Peruvian lily, is another favorite.

As is Crocosmia 'Lucifer.'

I don't want to give you the impression that only red flowers attract hummingbirds. They are curious little creatures and seem (at least from what I've observed) willing to visit anything colorful. Then, quick as a flash, they streak across the sky and "tweet" about what they've discovered.

Here are a few more of the long list of plants that will attract hummingbirds: honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), trumpet vine (Campesis radicans), strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), Ceanothus, Penstemons, lupines, coral bells (Heuchera sp.), elderberry (Sambucus sp.) and many others. The Sunset Western Garden Book has a detailed listing of plants for hummingbird gardens in its Guide to Plant Selection at the front of the book.

To learn more about attracting wildlife to your garden, I recommend Russell Link's book, "Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest."Link is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who also happens to have experience in landscape architecture. Although his book is specific to the Pacific Northwest, the general principles he offers can be applied in other regions, too.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Smoke Trees

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the article on purple smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria, vars. 'Purple Robe,' 'Royal Purple,' and others). These trees are in bloom, covered in puffs of "smoke," right now all over Seattle. But did you know that smoke trees come in colors other than purple?

I recently had the good fortune of discovering a golden version of the smoke tree growing next to a purple one. I do not know the specific name of this cultivar, but 'Golden Spirit' (C. coggygria 'Ancot') is one seen often in the trade.

Here is a close-up of its stunning gold foliage, with a few small puffs of smoky bloom beginning to show. The chartreuse leaves have dark green veination, adding to the visual interest. This is a good plant to keep in mind when you are wanting to use foliage color as a design element.

This is a green form of Cotinus, possibly a variety called 'Pink Champagne.' The pink puffs are interesting, though this plant is certainly not as dramatic as the purple or gold versions.

All Cotinus varieties are drought tolerant and do best in poor, even rocky, soils. They are noted for their fall color, brilliant yellows through red-orange.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Himalayan Honeysuckle

Himalayan honeysuckles (Leycesteria formosa) are in bloom right now in Seattle. You can't miss them, with these stunning flowers.
The actual flowers are these little white bells that you see above. The showy purple bracts that surround them are what catch your eye. These flowers will give way to berries (you can see a little red berry starting to form in the photo above) that are popular with birds. The berries start out green, turn red and then finally, black.
Himalayan honeysuckles are shrubs not vines, as are typical honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.) They grow quickly to fill a space 6' x 6'. In particularly cold winters, you may see significant die back on these plants. But don't give up on them right away. Cut away the dead branches and wait a bit. They are vigorous plants and often come right back when the weather starts to warm and the days are longer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hooked on Heuchera

Heuchera (pronounced HOO-ker-ah), also called coral bells, is a popular perennial in Seattle gardens. Each year, it seems, there are several new introductions to the collection available at nurseries, adding an ever wider selection of color and texture.
Some of the most familiar forms of this plant have purple leaves, as does this one above. Tiny, bell-shaped flowers are borne on tall slender stalks above the foliage in early summer. But it is the foliage that is the true star of the show, adding mounds of color nearly year around. In the purple range, look for varieties such as: 'Chocolate Ruffles,' 'Chocolate Veil,' and 'Garnet.'
Some varieties of Heuchera are noted for their veination patterns. I believe the variety shown above is called 'Pewter Moon.' Look also for 'Ruby Veil,' and 'Ring of Fire' to see other variations on the theme.
In recent years, Heuchera varieties with golden leaves have become very popular. Look for varieties such as 'Southern Comfort,' 'Peach Flambe,' and 'Caramel.'

Heuchera are easy to care for. Cut back ratty foliage in late winter, very early spring and a new flush of colorful growth will soon emerge. Because of the range of leaf colors and textures, these are good plants to keep in mind when you are designing a garden. Repeat the same plant 3 to 5 times throughout the garden, to draw the eye through the landscape, and to complement other colors in the garden. In Seattle, you often see Heuchera planted in mixed borders, containers and rockeries.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Commercial Landscapes: Safeway's "Green" Gas Station

When you think of gas stations, what comes to mind? Leafy maple trees? Blue oat grass billowing in the breeze? Perhaps a rugosa rose or two? Odds are that the answer is "no," unless you happen to be thinking about Safeway's gas station in the Admiral district in West Seattle.
Take a look. The sign is clearly visible, but except for that and the canopy above the pumps, all the rest is green.
Here's the view for pedestrians walking along the sidewalk in front of the station. Maple trees are planted on both sides of the walkway. On the left, you see a 4.5-foot hedge of Euonymous alata 'Compacta' (burning bush) that runs the length of the property, providing a lush green screen in summer and fiery red leaf color in the fall. Between the trees in the planting strip next to the street, you'll see blue oat and fescue grasses, yellow-flowering potentilla and white rugosa roses. Beach strawberry is used as a ground cover. 

This healthy abundance of green provides a pleasing focal point for motorists and pedestrians. It's also a treat for people pumping gas. Wouldn't you rather be gazing into a beautiful tree than staring at an oil slick on the pavement while you're waiting for your tank to get full? Congratulations to Safeway for taking a potential eyesore and making it into an attractive addition to the business district.