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.