The Birds and the Bees

Great Plant Picks for 2016

By: Rick Peterson
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Great Plant Picks

http://www.greatplantpicks.org/

Rick Peterson manages the Great Plant Picks educational program at the Elisabeth Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington. His home…

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Buzzing, chirping, and the hum of wings beating 50 times per second—these are the sounds of wildlife that many gardeners want to attract to their gardens. The Great Plant Picks 2016 collection, The Birds & The Bees: Attracting Winged Fauna to the Garden, features a great selection of GPP perennials, vines, trees, conifers, and shrubs that thrive in the maritime Pacific Northwest and invite bees, butterflies, and birds—specifically hummingbirds—into the garden.

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’ splashes the garden with color and offers early season sustenance for bees.  Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’ splashes the garden with color and offers early season sustenance for bees. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

BEES

The plight of bees is frequently in the news and many gardeners want to provide sustenance in the landscape for these amazing pollinators. As temperatures warm, bees emerge from their winter slumber looking for nourishment. Crocus are among the garden’s earliest blooming bulbs and the Great Plant Picks Selection Committee has just added 13 new cultivars to the list. Crocus ‘Flower Record’, C. ‘Pickwick’, C. ‘Goldilocks’, C. tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’, and C. tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty’ all offer nectar and pollen and add bright color to the late winter garden.

With narrow, gray-green foliage and up to 12 star-shaped flowering stems per bulb, Tulipa turkestanica is cold hardy but doesn’t require winter chill to bloom.  Photo: Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center

With narrow, gray-green foliage and up to 12 star-shaped flowering stems per bulb, Tulipa turkestanica is cold hardy but doesn’t require winter chill to bloom. Photo: Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center

The lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana) naturalizes well in mediterranean climates that don’t have cold winters.  Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

The lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana) naturalizes well in mediterranean climates that don’t have cold winters. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Species tulips, unlike many larger hybrids, are charming mid-spring bulbs that reliably return year after year. The following GPP selections will have honeybees and bumblebees bustling around the garden with satisfaction: Tulipa clusiana (deep pink and white stripes), T. humilis (pale pink to magenta), T. sylvestris (yellow), T. tarda (yellow with white tips), and T. turkestanica (white with yellow centers).

Eutrochium maculatum (syn. Eupatorium maculatum) ‘Gateway’ has tall seven-foot stems topped by dusky magenta blooms beloved by butterflies. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Eutrochium maculatum (syn. Eupatorium maculatum) ‘Gateway’ has tall seven-foot stems topped by dusky magenta blooms beloved by butterflies. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

BUTTERFLIES

Lepidoptera, an insect group that includes butterflies, are the quiet-winged fauna of garden and countryside. Their flight is delicate and gentle, as they seem to float among the blossoms. Is it any wonder then, that gardeners plant to attract them?

Although butterflies will consume nectar from a wide variety of flowers, they especially appreciate blossoms with an ample landing area such as Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cynara cardunculus, Leucanthemum ×superbum ‘Becky’, and Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’. Although these disparate-looking perennials have a variety of flower shapes—composite, umbel, globose—all are very butterfly-friendly.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Bravado’ is a reliable coneflower cultivar, and a favorite of gardeners and butterflies alike.  Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Echinacea purpurea ‘Bravado’ is a reliable coneflower cultivar, and a favorite of gardeners and butterflies alike. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Other great GPP perennial picks that entice butterflies into the garden include reliable coneflower cultivars like Echinacea purpurea ‘Bravado’, E. purpurea ‘Leuchtstern’ BRIGHT STAR™, and E. purpurea ‘Magnus’, whose daisy-like magenta flowers provide perfect runways for butterfly landings. Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ is similar in form with golden-yellow blooms. Joe-Pye weed is a natural butterfly magnet. With Eutrochium maculatum (syn. Eupatorium maculatum) ‘Gateway’ you can have what has been called a “tough, bodacious perennial” with soaring, seven-foot stems topped with dusky, magenta plumes; E. dubium ‘Little Joe’ and E. dubium ‘Baby Joe’ are diminutive cousins that are perfect for smaller gardens.

BIRDS

Nature generally provides both habitat and food for a plethora of bird life; but with environmental degradation, gardeners are increasingly choosing to create sanctuaries in their gardens to compensate for this loss, even if only to a small degree. Plus, what more convenient place to pursue birdwatching and birding than in one’s own garden?

The Himalayan white pine (Pinus wallichiana) has long, silky-soft needles and impressive cones that grow to nearly 12 inches in length. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

The Himalayan white pine (Pinus wallichiana) has long, silky-soft needles and impressive cones that grow to nearly 12 inches in length. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Broad-leaved trees and conifers provide nesting sites and nightly accommodations for resting. Some plant choices are like a cheap motel; but GPP selections—chosen by Northwest horticulturists using select criteria—are definitely more exclusive. As these plants mature, they will provide both fine habitat as well as food. A few examples of deciduous trees that provide birds with lodging and repast are Crataegus ×lavallei, Cornus mas, Sorbus alnifolia, and S. aria ‘Lutescens’, whose fruits persist through the winter unless they are discovered by foraging birds such as robins and thrushes.

The cones of conifers also furnish nourishing seeds for birds and, once these evergreens reach a reasonable size, they also provide security from predators, a place to raise young, and winter shelter. Pines (Pinus) often evoke a sense of being in the mountains and are ideal habitat for birds; Pinus cembra, P. densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’, P. heldreichii, and P. wallichiana all grow into stately specimens that bring year-round texture and color to the garden. Peruse the entire GPP list for other exceptional conifers with outstanding qualities including fir (Abies), incense cedar (Calocedrus), spruce (Picea), and hemlock (Tsuga).

Royal grevillea (Grevillea victoriae) produces its beak-like red-orange buds from fall through winter, providing nourishment for hummingbirds during an otherwise quiet bloom time in the garden. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Royal grevillea (Grevillea victoriae) produces its beak-like red-orange buds from fall through winter, providing nourishment for hummingbirds during an otherwise quiet bloom time in the garden. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

HUMMINGBIRDS

With their sassy chatter and unique system of flight, hummingbirds have found a special place in the hearts of gardeners. Arrays of flowering plants accommodate their specialized beaks. Typically, hummers are most attracted to flowers with a tubular shape, found on such shrubs as Weigela florida ‘Alexandra’ WINE AND ROSES®, Grevillea victoriae, and Leycesteria formosa.

However, these diminutive birds will find and feed on nectar from flowers of other shapes and sizes as well. In midwinter, watch for hummers zipping among the flowers of Mahonia ×media ‘Arthur Menzies’, M. ×media ‘Charity’, and M. ×media ‘Winter Sun’; Camellia ×vernalis ‘Yuletide’ and C. sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ are great choices for later in the season.

Rhododendron ‘Blue Danube’, a vigorous old Belgium cultivar, is covered with intensely colored magenta flowers in late April to early May. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

Rhododendron ‘Blue Danube’, a vigorous old Belgium cultivar, is covered with intensely colored magenta flowers in late April to early May. Photo: Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

For spring consider the luminous colors of any of the GPP azaleas such as Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Fuchsia’, R. ‘Hino-crimson’, or R. ‘Blue Danube’, and the sweetly fragrant, tiny, white, tubular flowers of Osmanthus ×burkwoodii or O. delavayi—all are definitely attractive to hummingbirds. In addition to the foregoing shrubs, continue the hummingbird smorgasbord through summertime with any of the excellent GPP selections of Yucca filamentosa (‘Bright Edge’, ‘Color Guard’, ‘Variegata’), Y. flaccida ‘Golden Sword’, and Y. recurvifolia, all with statuesque panicles of flowers.

Plants mentioned in this article are only the beginning. Visit the Great Plant Picks website to find many more plants to attract bees, birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds into your personal horticultural haven.