Hummers

    Last week we saw the first swooping dart of the hummingbird careening around the yard, then pausing in mid-flight, looking for something to eat.

    There wasn’t much forage in the way of flowers, so we got a couple of feeders from the basement, filled them with a 1:4 sugar and water solution, and hung them from the trees.

    One’s already been smashed by a baseball, one dripped its contents onto a pair of sneakers, and the last one is swarming with ants. What I’d prefer to do is get a good hummingbird garden going.

    The type of hummer we get in Philadelphia is the Ruby Throated, and they travel a long way, usually from Mexico, before arriving here in late spring. Weighing less than a nickel, these birds are surprisingly adaptive to a city environment, and they are not any less exciting for being a frequent presence in the summer garden.

    Fortunately for us, some of the hummingbirds’ favorite nectar sources are also beautiful garden plants that grow great in the Philadelphia area.

    In general hummingbirds prefer tube or pipe shaped flowers, like salvias, honeysuckle, and bee balm. Looking over a number of lists of best hummingbird plants, I made a selection of hummingbird attracting perennials that are most garden worthy, easiest to grow, and least invasive in our region:

    Salvia guaranitica- hummingbird sage

    Monarda didyma- scarlet bee balm

    Digitalis purpurea- common foxglove

    Lobelia cardinalis- cardinal flower

    Aquilegia canadensis- columbine

    Agastache rupestris- threadleaf hyssop

    Phlox paniculata- garden phlox

    Hummingbirds also forage from annuals like petunias and lantana, shrubs like weigelia, and vines such as honeysuckle and campsis, which should be planted judiciously as they can be hard to control.

    I’ll probably keep those leaky sugar-water feeders around for another summer, in hopes that by next year my hummingbird garden will be established enough so that I can be a better hostess and offer my tiny visitors sips of the real thing.

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