I like hummingbirds, but I feel uneasy about giving them sugar water in feeders. For starters, sugar water doesn’t seem like good nutrition for them; for another, you have to be sure the sugar water is fresh and not fermented by heat. I’m sorry to say that I’m not the kind of person who can be trusted to remember and take care of that.
So one of the qualifiers for my garden list is flowers that will nourish birds, particularly hummingbirds.
I can’t say I’ve actually done a lot to attract hummingbirds, but I accidentally chose two heirloom bulbs which are shaping up to be hummingbird plants par excellence. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get pictures while the hummingbirds were actually working them, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But hummingbirds did work both these flowers, with enthusiasm, and came back for more.
The one at the top of the page is ‘Atom’ glad.
I didn’t use to like glads. I associated them with those stiff spiky arrangements that put you off at formal events such as weddings and funerals.
Maybe that sterile association is what made me so surprised to see a hummingbird working my ‘Atom’ glads. I mean, they’re red, right? Hummingbird color? But I just never associated glads with nectar and pollinations, somehow.
But my bulbomania, and the enticing descriptions at Old House Gardens and Brent and Becky’s got me interested in glads. Especially the old-fashioned hybrids that used to be called primulus, from a species with more graceful, smaller spikes and hooded flowers. Though the catalogues don’t mention it, ‘Atom’ looks like one of these hybrids to me.
It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get a picture of a hummer on these glads: just never happened at the right moment. But they were faithful, if irregular, visitors. If you choose to plant this heirloom glad, you may get the same bonus.
‘Citronella’ lily was another surprise hummingbird attraction.
This is a hummingbird’s view of the flower. I hadn’t even thought of hummingbirds being attracted to a lily, much less a downfacing yellow one. But the hanging lily heads gave me an extra-good show one morning as a hummingbird worked it: I could see the hummer fully, as it was hovering underneath the lily with only its beak stuck up into the flower. For a moment it stopped to rest on the lily stalk: it was only a little bigger than one of the buds. (My camera and I were parted that morning, so no pictures. Some things just need to hide in the magic of the moment.)
‘Citronella’ was bred by Jan de Graaf, in 1958. He was the first major lily breeder in the United States (before that, species lilies were grown in quantity, but there wasn’t a lot of hybridization). It’s an Asiatic lily, with parents L. davidii var. unicolor and L. amabile var. luteum. Ed McRae, one of the inheritors of de Graaf’s mantle, describes it as “pendant to outfacing golden yellows of exceptional form and beauty.”
Still, I was hesitant to get Citronella, since it isn’t fragrant, and in my small garden I like it if every plant serves at least two purposes.
But I’ve come to trust de Graaf hybrids for their grace, and Citronella wasn’t too pricey, so I popped for some.
It turns out Citronella does serve two purposes. One: it’s beautiful, and at least in its first year filled in that lily blank between the trumpets and the other kinds of lilies. Two: it’s hummingbird food, and a whole lot more nutritious than sugar water. Fun to watch, too.