Herbs for my Hummers

Herbs for my Hummers

HummingbirdIt always seems about the time spring gardening tasks are completed, and the flowers I've carefully tended all summer are at the height of their glory, that fall descends with gusto!

And so it has again here in our cozy little spot in Eastern Washington. Some of my last roses of summer are even more beautiful and showy now than the first ones that bloomed in early spring. It's like they don't want to give up yet. "Please, just a few more days, maybe even weeks," they beg.

Our lovely autumn days of late have only served to make me wish they could last forever. And, that the cold winter chill I know will soon follow could somehow be stayed by a divine act of Mother Nature.

But alas! Old Jack Frost touched down several nights ago, burnishing the tips of my profusely blooming Pink Simplicity roses. The creamy white Chicago Peace and velvety red American Beauty roses look a tad bit droopy as well. Lush green wisteria leaves are beginning to fall, carpeting our deck with shades of gold and yellow. The Japanese red maple will soon follow suit, along with my pink flowering cherry tree and pink flowering almond.

I will sorely miss my hummers and butterflies that have graced our yard all summer, performing their carefree fluttering and diving acts just for my pleasure, I'm sure. Even the bees are sluggish now, seeking places to hibernate, probably in the eaves of the house as usual. I won't miss their acrobatics!

So, what's a gardener to do this time of year in my part of the world? Here, where Old Man Winter is bound to bring deep snowdrifts that will soon cover my sleeping flower beds with a cold, stark white blanket. Here, where the branches of my beautiful weeping white birch tree will soon be laden with frozen snow and long icicles, replacing the bright golden leaves that now grace them. Soon too, the soft green needles--now turning a golden yellow--will have fallen from the flowing long skirt of my unique Norway weeping larch in the center of my front yard rose garden. My garden tools will be safely stowed on their shelf in the garage by the end of October, together with my well-worn gardening gloves and comfortable old Reeboks.

Grow a Hummingbird Garden
Grow a Hummingbird Garden book coverThe perfect hummingbird habitat is a simple one, and even the smallest garden can provide the food, water, perches, shelter and nesting sites that hummingbirds need. With Dale Gelfand's advice and easy-to-follow instructions you'll soon lure these beautiful birds into your backyard -- and keep them coming back year after year.

So, what's to do next? Read on, my friend!

I can soon sit and rest in my favorite chair next to the cozy earth stove in our dining room. A crackling fire of fragrant apple wood or fresh cut fir logs will be warming my tootsies as I sip some French vanilla hot chocolate. From this vantage point, I can watch our WINTER birds, already jockeying for positions at their favorite feeders on our backyard fence.

And now . . . my "herbs for my hummers" gardening plan begins to take shape.

I have decided I want to scope out some strategic spots in my backyard garden to place some herbs for my hummers come spring. "Herbs?" you ask. "Hummingbirds like herbs?"

"Yes!" I answer resoundingly. "Hummers LOVE certain herbs."

Well, . . . not exactly "herbs" per se. However, in researching for some new nectar sources for next year's hummers, I learned they LOVE the sweet nectar in the lush blossoms of some very interesting herbs.

While researching, I found an interesting passage from William Shakespeare's famous play -- "Othello." It seemed appropriate here, and I wanted to share it.

"Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens; to which our wills are gardeners, so that if we will plant Nettles or sow Lettuce, set Hyssop or weed up Thyme; supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry; why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills."

Now to be honest, I've never had much of a desire to grow my own herbs. It's so much easier to run to the store and buy them in a can or a jar. But I figure, why not grow some? Doing something new and different is always a challenge. And if I have a deluge of hummers . . . it will be worth the effort!

Because all the flowers and shrubs in my garden are perennials, and my beds are pretty full already, my plan is to intermingle a few herbs with my existing plants. I want to do this for several reasons. Herbs usually do well in the same environment and soil conditions as flowers. They aren't real fussy, don't need a lot of fertilizer, and aren't prone to many insect or disease problems. Hummingbirds don't have much sense of smell, so the scent of the herbs won't deter them from seeking nectar from their blossoms. Interestingly, some of the herbs listed below are EDIBLE by humans. So, I can reap a harvest of sorts along with the hummers!

Here are several herbs I think might blend nicely with my existing flower garden.And, they are guaranteed to attract hummers and butterflies.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

Monarda, especially the Cambridge Scarlet, is one of the best of the flowering herbs for attracting hummingbirds. Its flowers have rounded heads with ragged clusters of petals, and provide a rich supply of nectar. Hummingbirds favor this particular species because of its bright red color and sweet nectar.

Monarda usually blooms in July. This would be good, since it would be blooming after some of my other perennials are done blooming for the year--especially my striking red, white, and pink peonies. Monarda can grow as tall as four feet, so I'll need to be careful as to where I place this herb.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)

This herb is but one of many species of the salvia family. Its leaves are light green, which would add nice color variety to my garden. Also, the leaves have a fruity flavor and scent and can be used in cool drinks on a hot summer day. They are also used to add flavor to summer fruit salads. Pineapple Sage grows from two to three feet tall, with bright red flowers that bloom mostly in the fall. Hummingbirds adore this beautiful species of salvia.

Garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolaceae Majus)

This perennial herb is an old favorite of many gardeners. Its colors range from maroon, orange, reddish brown, and red to creamy white. The tender young leaves, flowers, and seed pods of this herb are often used in salads. I haven't grown it for many years in my flower garden, but I'm considering doing so next year. The foliage is delightful, and hummingbirds enjoy sipping nectar from its smaller flowers. Nasturtiums grow quickly and bloom nearly all summer until late fall in our zone. They can be started indoors from seeds in late February, then transplanted to the garden.

Tropaeolum majus Variegata is another similar nasturtium that is very easy to grow. Its delicate flowers are pale yellow variegated in color. I could use a bit more yellow to accompany my lovely Amber Queen rose our daughter gave us some years ago.

Scarlet sage salvia (S. Splenden) is a lovely sage that is a great hummingbird attractant. It is also available in colors of purple, white and pink. I would choose the scarlet, since hummers do love this color the best. It can be used as a bedding plant, and produces a continuos blaze of color from early summer until the first frost of late autumn. Its tubular flowers grow in tiers, rising above the lovely foliage. Again, hummingbirds prefer the tubular flowers for sipping the nectar. This great flowering herb is easy to grow, and does well even with poor soil. It would make an outstanding addition to my Backyard Habitat for hummers and butterflies.

So, now I've shared one of my latest aspirations for attracting more "flying flowers" to our backyard next spring. If anyone has suggestions about other flowering herbs that hummers love, I'd be delighted to have you share them with me.

A final thought . . . I'm certain before the coming winter is past, I'll be more than ready to grab my garden tools, put on those old Reeboks and worn-out gloves, and head for the dirt again!

Many thanks to Stan Westfall at Nature's Flightline for the great photo of "Hummer at Hibiscus Blossom."

About the Author Naomi Mathews also writes a column on Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardening for Suite 101.com.

This article was originally published at Suite 101 in the Gardening section.

About this Author