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The Birds and the Bees

By: Sandra Nelson; Images Sandy DeFoe

My six year old granddaughter wanted to have a serious conversation about the birds and the bees this past weekend. (To clarify, we are talking literal birds and bees here.) My budding entomologist/ornithologist was very curious because she couldn’t find any bugs to catch in her yard and her brand new bird feeder wasn’t always busy like mine. She just didn’t understand why. And more to the point for her, how could she get them to come to her yard?

child in grass

Answering a six-year-old’s question was both easy and hard. She lives in a just built house in a just built neighborhood that hasn’t had time to move beyond the builder included one tree three bush phase. Knowing her mother though, eventually her yard will become a luscious haven for urban wildlife. It will just take time and patience, two concepts that are so difficult to grasp if you are six.  

new house

Since whole yard transformations take time (and much more money than the average six-year-old has), container plantings on the patio seemed to be the best solution for her wildlife dilemma. We immediately set to work researching the best choices for bringing hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and all sorts of other creatures to her yard. After very thoughtful study, these are the easy to find, easy to grow plants we chose to include in our patio makeover.





flowersHummingbirds are known to be attracted to the color red and will seek out red flowers. What many people don’t realize however, is that hummingbirds are also attracted to other bloom colors, as long as they are vibrant. Easily accessible, nectar rich blossoms with tubular shapes will also attract hummers.  Try:






Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)




flowersTrying to purposely draw bees to a patio garden is an insane idea to many people. Bees, in their minds, are aggressive creatures bent on inflicting terror and pain on innocent, unsuspecting humans. The reality is a somewhat different story. Honey bees are one of the few social bees, which means that they live in colonies in a hive. That hive is not only home territory, it holds their queen. Male worker bees (yes, a real term) have stingers and will sting once if the hive is threatened. Most of the time their attitude is ``you leave me alone and I'll leave you alone.” 

On the other hand, most native bees are solitary and have no hive to protect. The vast majority have tiny stingers that don’t hurt humans and some species don’t even have stingers. Even better, some natives are dressed in vibrant, often metallic colors that add delightful color to the garden. Because honeybees are generalists, visiting almost any nectar or pollen rich flower, they are easy to attract. Native bees tend to be specialists, meaning they need specific types of nectar and pollen to live. Plant single petal flowers in shades of purple, blue and yellow. Try:



Purple coneflowers








A true butterfly garden takes more than the few pots my granddaughter and I are putting together. Butterflies need places for sheltered rest, places to puddle, places to sunbathe, maternity wards, places for caterpillars to munch and lots of nectar all season long. By including some butterfly favorites in our pots, we should be able to offer butterflies a place to stop and feed as they flutter by. To make a container garden attractive to passing butterflies, mass containers full of a single variety of flower. Butterflies love red, yellow, orange, pink or purple flowers that are either clustered or flat topped and have short flower tubes. Avoid using any type of pesticide for these fragile creatures. Try:




Sweet alyssum

Garden phlox 



My granddaughter and I looked at a lot of pictures and put a lot of thought into this list.  These are her choices. I hope mom approves because we have a shopping trip scheduled next weekend!