SOME plants are grown for their luxurious foliage, other plants are grown for their colourful flowers, but some plants are grown for the wildlife they attract into the garden.
I have many plants that require some extra work to keep them under control, such as bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare purpureum), which needs regular dead-heading to prevent prolific self-seeding.
But fennel attracts a wide range of predatory insects to feed on the abundant nectar from its flowers. Not only do predators, such as hoverflies, like fennel but many different bee species feed on its nectar.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is another plant willing to self-seed readily, but its small, intricate flowers attract a number of beneficial insects to the garden. Other plants like lavender, phlox and astilbe will also provide nectar for beneficial insects during summer. Those plants and many others are key ingredients to any sustainable pest-management program, but growing plants is not always about managing some program. There are several plants that I grow specifically to attract birds to the garden.
I wait all year to see the annual arrival of hummingbirds that visit my garden to feed on flower nectar. Now, I'm not an ornithologist but I believe the hummingbird species that visits my garden is called Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna).
It comes in late July and visits frequently until late September. I think it's a female because it does not have the colourful red plumage on its throat that males have as described in bird books.
Hummingbirds love to feed on the abundant red flowers of montbretia Lucifer (Crocosmia Lucifer). Grown from corms (similar to bulbs), montbretia is a herbaceous perennial growing up to 1.5metres tall and spreading to form large colonies of wide leaves similar to iris but taller with notably parallel veins. The corms are contractile meaning they have the ability to pull themselves deeper into the soil to suit their growing needs. Few other plants can attract hummingbirds like the redflowered montbretia.
The orange montbretias do not seem to attract hummingbirds as well as montbretia Lucifer. A word of caution about all montbretias: They are prolific self-seeders and the corms reproduce underground easily, so montbretia can spread underground, self-seed and become a nuisance if they are not dead-headed and controlled. And never fertilize montbretias unless you want to be overrun by their expanding colonies.
Unfortunately dead-heading montbretias removes one of their most lovely virtues, their ornate reddish-brown seed heads abundantly produced in September.
Hardy fuchsias also seem to attract hummingbirds into my garden in late August and September when the montbretias have finished flowering. Hardy fuchsias come in many sizes and flower colours but I have only seen hummingbirds feeding on those varieties that have all green foliage and bright red, burgundy, or wine-red flowers.
Hummingbirds seem to avoid fuchsias with variegated leaves and fuchsias with pale purple, pink or white flowers. Hardy fuchsias grow up to one-metre tall in any average soil preferring full sun to bloom best, but they will flower in light or filtered shade. I never cut my hardy fuchsia back until spring when the new growth starts low down on last year's stems. Hardy fuchsias grown in the ground should not be fertilized because the fertilizer forces soft tissue growth, and when the abundant flowers are produced in late summer and fall, the stems become heavy with bloom and tend to break.
Another great birdattracting plant in my garden is the large Manitoba maple (Acer negundo) that grows in my backyard. Manitoba maples can grow up to 25-metres tall and almost as wide, so it is not ideal for small gardens. However, because my Manitoba maple is 45 or 50 years old it has developed large, moss-covered primary branches with a thick network of secondary and tertiary branches that attract birds year-round to feed and roost.
There's an owl that visits the maple in mid-summer. I'm not sure why the owl visits but it's a magnificent sight to see. I also have common rock doves that roost in the maple some nights. There are also chickadees, blue jays, robins and sparrows that visit to pick through the heavy, moss-covered branches looking for insects to eat. Most amazingly I have seen a bird called the Evening Grosbeak (Hesperiphona vespertina), which looks like a stunted version of a parrot. It has a large blunt beak and the coolest shade of lime green on its neck and head.
So next time you purchase a plant for the garden consider selecting a plant for more than its beauty, try choosing a plant that provides a home or helps wildlife to find food and sanctuary.