verbenaWE’RE IN THE WANING WEEKS OF DIVE-BOMB SEASON at A Way to Garden. The ruby-throated hummingbirds are in a nearly final frenzy of aerial displays, meeting at high speed in mid-air, then swooping downward into their favorite treats.

The ruby throats, the only species of hummingbird that breeds in Eastern North America, always come back from Central America at the same moment as my bleeding hearts start blooming. No mystical or evolutionary correlation, just a colorful coincidence: two of nature’s most unusual creations having a moment together. They’re in the tall verbena (above) and elsewhere now.

The bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, is hardly the traditional trumpet-shaped flower hummingbirds are said to favor, nor is it red (reportedly their favorite color). It’s just one of the plants in my palette that has proven an unexpected attractant for them, despite not being on “the list” with “hummingbird plants” like honeysuckle, trumpet vine, penstemon, and salvias. It’s not native (an Asian alien), so it certainly doesn’t make the list of best native hummingbird plants, either. (I think the best mail-order selection is at High Country Gardens, by the way.)

nicotianaNeither does the flowering tobacco, hailing from more southerly climates than mine. I always have to stop myself from pulling up too many of the self-sown Nicotiana, prodigious seeders it’s hard to be without once you’ve grown them. A few big patches in a sunny spot are better than any hummingbird feeder you can buy (and cheaper, too).

Another tenacious self-sower, Verbena bonariensis (top photo) is almost equally attractive. Who knew those tiny flowers packed into dome-topped clusters called cymes would be the thing? And anise hyssop, including the showier golden-leaf variety called Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee,’ below, is doing a great job (as well as with the bees).


I always put some tender red salvias at the edge of the vegetable garden for the ruby-throats, including S. coccinea ‘Spanish Dancer,’ below, or any of the many great red choices.  My token gesture, apparently, as the hummingbirds seem perfectly happy with what last year’s garden left behind.

I’ve mentioned it before: I count birds. Do you? And do you see any iridescent little guys out there with their motors really running?

  1. margaret says:

    Welcome, Joco. Yes, hummingbirds are New World species, natice to the Americas. Though they migrate an astonishingly long distance in a single flight to Central America each winter, they don’t make any transatlantic flights. :( As for the salvias, I have to buy plants of decent size in May, and even that way don’t get flowers till high summer. Now is we lived in Texas… Do come visit again soon.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Our porch is rimmed with Hollyhocks. (They were planted black and came up crimson, but that’s another story) The hummingbirds sip from the leaning flowers in the late afternoon. When the birds come, everyone stops whatever they are doing–to watch. Totally magical.

  3. diana says:

    The hummers favorite is scarlet gilia. They also love various salvias, agastache and trumpet vine(which I regret planting except when the Hummingbirds are here). The goldfinches are back from the mountains and we still have the 3 western screech owl teenagers.

  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Stephanie. I will do more homework about who travels through our area, but only the ruby-throated breeds here. Back shortly after a little more research!

    Welcome also to Elizabeth. Sounds like your hollyhocks (whatever color they may be) are doing a great job as a birdfeeder indeed.

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome Barbara. Yes, they are territorial…apparently one male will defend like a quarter-acre or so during breeding, and multiple birds will share food sources when the family-rearing is over…but not without the aerial antics.

  6. Stephanie says:

    I was delighted to find this post. We are relative newcomers to Connecticut’s NW Corner and have spent gobs of time this summer watching our busy little iridescent friends work our bee balm and cat mint. We’ve seen at least three females working our plants — and, boy, are they ever territorial!

    You mention that the ruby throats are the only ones in the Northeast. We have, however, seen a beautiful coppery colored hummingbird working in the blue mist and Japanese maple on the other side of the house.

  7. Barbara Price Hendricks says:

    What great info about all the plants these deceptively fragile looking little birds like! They arrive in my garden (Cincinnati OH) when the lilacs bloom (late April) and are hard at work right now on their favorite, lantana, as well as the blue salvias, joe pye, butterfly bush, hardy passion flower, cleome, etc. They seem to be more territorial over the feeders than the plants, looking like little jedi warriors chasing one another up over the trees and the house….

  8. Kathy says:

    Hi Margaret,
    This summer I’ve only seen one hummingbird darting around my Lobelia but what a treat! My garden in Northern Jersey does attract a great variety of birds which I try to record, not in very professional manner, but it is fascinating to mark their arrivals and departures. The comments are wonderful everyday.

  9. Dahlia Delight says:

    Hello! Any suggestions. The beavers are busy felling trees along our Adirondack lake shoreline. They are cute and we are humane but heard they can clear an acre of trees in a season.

  10. Chris says:

    I’m here in dry, dry, Eastern Indiana. I see hummingbirds at various flowers while I’m working outside but the most amazing thing has been to have males fly almost up to the window behind my computer. It’s second story and I look right out into the canopy of a sugar maple. I figured it out!
    I have a tiny red glass doo-dad hanging on a string from the window latch. I’m removing it for the birds’ safety but I’ll
    miss them.

    We’ve had the treat of indigo buntings nesting near an old fence line.


  11. margaret says:

    Welcome, Chris. I used to have indigo buntings every year when I put out birds feeders, and they came closer in where all the bird activity was, but now I only see them in the outer reaches, not by the house at all. What a treat they are; I miss their visits, and really understand that you will miss the male hummingbird (but you did the right thing). See you soon again I hope.

    @Dahlia Delight: I have heard people tell of this before, and have no idea what the remedy is. A guess it’s another homework assignment for me, huh?

  12. margaret says:

    @Stephanie: If you have a Rufous hummingbird, which is possible, it would be good to record it. You will probably be able to find the local Audubon affiliate online by searching, or you could go to and start there. Have a look at the checklist of where hummingbirds have been seen outside their normal range, including CT, and the accompanying photos.

  13. diana says:

    @ Dahlia Delight: Our city puts wire fencing around the base of trees to prevent the beavers chewing on them. It works, but it’s time consuming and not attractive.

  14. Judy says:

    Don’t forget the “Black and Blue” salvia. Though not the supposed favorite color, our three hummingbirds couldn’t get enough of it this summer. They’d be so engrossed that I could walk within three feet of them.

  15. heather says:

    I have seen a hummer feeding at a hanging basket of white impatiens – and also eyeing her reflection inquisitively. One quiet day, 1 female buzzed another in huge arcs about a dozen times. It was quite entertaining!
    Question – my lonicera sempervirens bloomed for the first time this summer, but then has stopped as it looks like something eats out the buds. All that is left is a set of green prongs where the flowers would have been. Any ideas?

  16. LoriProPhoto says:

    I have just watched your segment on The Martha Stewart show and of course just had to come and see the Frog Boys etc. On the hummingbird thing, I have always loved nature and am primarily a horse person but have been trying to set up a safe feeding platform for all my birds around our house. I don’t have a lot of flowers but I sure will be reading up on your recommendations for bird and insect friendly plants. I also hung a hummingbird feeder recently not really expecting to see any of these tiny little guys and was pleasantly surprised to see them come to feed within 24 hours!!!

    Of course my other passion is photography and I have captured numerous images of them on my Canon digital DSLR (I use it in manual mode, like you I like making the decisions on f-stops and shutter speeds although do reply a bit on autofocus because my eyes are taking a beating with all the computer work etc.)

    I would be very pleased if you would visit my blog, you may have to wade through some of the stories, it started as a photo a day blog and has ended up as a diary of sorts but you can just view the pictures LOL.

    Oh yes can you put in a good word for me with Martha, I would love to photograph her Friesians!!!!! especially in the snow!!!

    Okay thats it for me, I will be back for sure and will catch up on a bit more of your blog, your photos are wonderful and you write with great humor.

    Lori Schmidt

  17. margaret says:

    Welcome, LoriProPhoto. I will be clicking over to visit you soon…once I say hello to all the new “faces” today here. And yes, aren’t Martha’s horses amazing? (All I’ve got is some stray frogboys and a stray cat, all of whom adopted me years ago and seem to like the place enough to stick around.)

  18. Frances says:

    I just found your website today after watching Martha.
    It is really enjoyable! Thought i would tell you that
    our hummers arrive in Georgia every spring about the
    fifth of April and leave about the middle of October, almost
    to the day. First the males leave about September,
    leaving the females and young. Then one fall day, you
    look out the window and they’re all gone. One favorite
    flower that they really love are the Mimosa blossoms,those
    pink, powder puff blossoms which smell heavenly.Next to
    bluebirds, hummingbirds are my favorite birds.

  19. margaret says:

    Welcome, Frances, a fellow bird-lover. I am fascinated to hear about the hummingbirds’ enjoyment of the mimosa blossoms…not something I have here, so I didn’t know. The mental image of those little shiny birds in those powder puffs is lovely. Thanks.

  20. Valerie Gillman says:

    Another thing I figured out about the hummers- the male only lets his female use the feeder and he isn’t too sweet to her. When he’s gone, it gets swarmed, but I don’t know how any of them get enough-what fisticuffs! A couple years ago I had a tame male. When he was resting, he was always nearby on a branch, watching me garden. He showed up for three years, then never again. Something else wonderful- in the spring as soon as they arrive, they buzz round and round the house stopping to look into each window till they find me, then telling me to get out here and set up the feeder.They don’t stop till I hang it. I think the “loop de loops” are the mating flight. There’s a female somewhere close sitting still on a branch and the showoffing seems directed to her. Such a treasure birds are and for anyone willing to keep their eyes open, insights into their world. I miss them so much. I moved and there don’t seem to be any here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.