Some of our favorite garden visitors are birds. The garden moves with their hopping, fluttering and bathing and their songs and twitters are a soundtrack for our work. Part of the fun of watching birds is that you never quite know what they'll do next. Yesterday, Buell saw a jay dive into our stock tank pond and paddle around, hop out for a moment and then do it again! Kniphofias are usually a hummingbird thing, but two years ago, waxwings mobbed our Kniphofia northiae flowers.
There are a few plants that bring birds back year after year. Many of them are well known, but here are three of our favorites that may not make the common lists.
- Sambucus - Our 'Black Beauty' flowers and fruits reliably, and is absolutely covered in waxwings when the berries are ripe.
- Eccremocarpus is a red-flowered vine that is a hummingbird magnet. We can work and watch just a few feet from the vine in our veggie garden, and the hummers are too happy to mind. If you thin the seed pods, you'll find that the vine flowers through the entire growing season (if you don't, you may find a few baby vines spread around your garden...)
- Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' proves that hummingbirds aren't complete color snobs. Its deep blue flowers vibrate with hummingbirds throughout the summer. Interestingly, we've found that while newer plants will die in a hard freeze their first winter or two, established plants survived even last year's serious cold snap.
A last word on birds: our native bird populations are dwindling, particularly the species that forage on or near the ground. There are many, many reasons for this, and there are many ways to help. Planting bird-friendly gardens and using few or no pesticides (organics first, please) are a great start. As far as the birds are concerned, the more bugs the better! Another thing you can do is to bell your cat or find another way to minimize their bird kills. We love cats, but a few of they are not native to our area and the native birds have not evolved the tricks to escape their efficient hunting. We also minimize cat (and raccoon!) traffic in our garden by netting off their favorite pathways and blocking off the gaps under our fence.