Read This: Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest


After screech owls, hummingbirds are my favorite garden visitors. Zipping around in jewel-toned splendor, these tiny birds with pugnacious personalities are a joy to watch. One of my favorite gardening moments occurred when I was watering some new salvias I’d planted, and suddenly heard a deep thrumming sound, almost a growl. With a jolt, I wondered if an unfriendly dog was coming toward me, and I looked up. A thrill of delight! A hummingbird was hovering just a couple of feet in front of me, face-to-face, its wings fluttering so fast they were only a blur. Apparently deciding I was safe, it darted to a flower and took a quick sip. The salvias were barely in the ground and already they’d attracted a beautiful hummer. It was a magical moment.

If you live in the southwestern U.S. and want to attract hummingbirds to your own yard — or amp up the number of visitors — you’ll be interested in a book I just read. Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest by Marcy Scott (Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2015) appealingly and practically explains how to entice these delightful birds with nectar-filled plants that thrive in the arid Southwest and with design tips for creating appropriate habitat.


Black-chinned hummingbird. Photograph by Dale and Marian Zimmerman.

Scott, a botanist, former wildlife rehabilitator, and garden consultant in Las Cruces, New Mexico, opens with profiles of nine hummingbird species that frequent the U.S. Southwest, an enormous region ranging from Southern California, through Arizona and New Mexico, to the Texas Hill Country and Austin (just barely). Northern Mexico and the southern edges of Utah and Colorado are included too. Beautiful photos of the birds at rest are accompanied by Scott’s engaging descriptions of each bird’s nectaring and nesting plant preferences, feeding and courtship behavior, and migratory range.

Thoughtfully, Scott also covers the dangers posed by proximity to humans, which we need to be cognizant of when we’re enticing them into our yards: domestic cats, windows, improperly maintained feeders, and insect sprays on our plants. I learned that some hummingbird species prefer to nectar on plants at ground level, making them more vulnerable to cat predation.


Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis). Photograph by Lisa Mandelkern.

The meat of the book, in Chapter 5, is a detailed plant guide for attracting hummingbirds to your garden. Scott descriptively profiles 120 plants, including each plant’s significance to hummingbirds; its native range, habitat, and appearance; and how to grow it. A full-page color photo (close-ups, for the most part) accompanies each plant profile.

Desert gardeners from West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona will, I think, find this book most useful. Those in Central Texas, like me, will learn that a number of the featured birds don’t typically travel this far east, and many of the recommended desert plant aren’t suitable for our steamy summer climate. That said, I counted at least 27 plants that work very well for us here and will certainly make your garden more appealing to hummingbirds.


Batface cuphea (Cuphea llavea). Photography by Wynn Anderson.

Whether you’re primarily a birder or a gardener, the book is guaranteed to make you more appreciative of hummingbirds and aware of how our gardening practices (or lack thereof) impact these vulnerable little travelers. As Scott eloquently reminds us:

“[E]ven a tiny oasis of habitat offering flowering plants that provide nectar can mean the difference between life and death to a migrating hummingbird — particularly when crossing broad expanses of mostly barren desert….To spiritual people through the ages, the hummingbird has signified joy, and indeed that is what they bring us. We can make an effort to encourage their favored plants in our gardens so that they might continue to grace us with their magic…”

Disclosure: Rio Nuevo Publishers sent me a copy of Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Read This: Gardenista


I got behind with my self-declared Book Review Week last week, but I’m back on track today with my review of Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces (2016, Artisan) by Michelle Slatalla. Since it was a fall release, I’d hoped I might find it under the Christmas tree, but I ended up buying my own copy after the holidays and have been savoring it for weeks.

Lushly illustrated with photos of beautiful patios and outdoor living spaces — in which plants play a significant, if not starring, role — the book provides plenty of eye candy. My favorite part of the book, “Thirteen Gardens We Love,” showcases a variety of well-designed gardens with a decidedly verdant and romantic ambience — mostly urban patio gardens, with a few larger properties thrown in — in detailed, 10- to 16-page spreads. The glowing, Instagram-worthy images are punctuated with a short intro about each garden and captions explaining key design elements, followed by a 2-page spread called “Steal This Look,” which calls out aspects of the design that create a certain style, like Moroccan Modern and Rustic Glamour, to name two.

All of the gardens featured in this section are in New England, mostly New York and Massachusetts (6); London, England (3); and California (3); with one exception — a welcome surprise! — from Austin, Texas (Christy Ten Eyck‘s garden, which I’ve photographed myself several times). I would have preferred more variety in locations, but I enjoyed each garden anyway and lingered over the images.

That’s half the book. The next two chapters feature, respectively, the use of color in the garden and 8 “creative ways to get more from your garden,” and there’s plenty to admire here too. The following chapter, Design Ideas, I found least useful, even simplistically silly, in showing how to create a few outdoor projects. For example, a “simple outdoor sink” is suggested as a project for a DIY garden workspace, but what’s shown is a galvanized bucket placed under an existing faucet — or a faucet that you’ve had a plumber install (i.e., not very DIY). On page 301, the author suggests using a propped-up pitchfork as an impromptu hose-sprayer support for irrigation. Um, no. And Christy Ten Eyck’s rustic-elegant outdoor shower constructed of wire mesh (page 304) is described as a DIY-friendly “Simplest Shower.” I’ve asked Christy about that exact wire mesh and learned you’d need to be a skilled welder or hire one to recreate her McNichols mesh outdoor shower enclosure.

Aside from those stumbles of oversimplification, there’s plenty to interest those who like to style outdoor spaces with a similar attention to detail as the interior, as well as anyone who enjoys paging through pictures of lovely gardens, learning about the gardeners who created them, and getting inspiration for their own gardens. And if the book whets your appetite for more garden gorgeousness, you can always pop online and surf Gardenista’s website, a sister site to the hugely popular Remodelista.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get 24-hour advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Book Review Week: Texas gardening and Hill Country photography books

Texas gardeners and shutterbugs who enjoy photographing the beautiful Texas Hill Country will appreciate today’s book picks: Texas Month-by-Month Gardening by Robert “Skip” Richter and Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country by Laurence Parent.

Let’s start with Texas gardening. Author Skip Richter is a beloved figure in Texas gardening circles. Formerly the extension service horticulturist and head of the Master Gardeners in Travis County and a regular on KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener, Skip now resides in Houston, but he’s gardened and taught gardening all across our climatically diverse state. (Texas encompasses hardiness zones 6 through 10, and annual rainfall varies from 56 inches in the southeastern corner to 8 inches in far western Texas!) That makes him well qualified to write a general gardening book for the Lone Star State.

Texas Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year (2014, Cool Springs Press) is Skip’s first book, and it’s part of the Cool Springs Press regional gardening series. (Look online for a Month-by-Month Gardening book for your region.) This is a practical how-to book for beginners or new-to-Texas gardeners. As many a newbie has learned the hard way, our seasons in Texas can seem upside-down from what’s considered normal in more-temperate parts of the country. It can be useful to have an experienced gardening coach like Skip tell you that January, for example, is when you should “start transplants of warm-season vegetables for the spring garden…in zones 8 and 9.” Of June, Skip points out that in our blistering climate, “flowers that are called ‘heat-tolerant’ in milder climates often either die or stop blooming….[W]e need to shift strategies and look to plants with colorful foliage to paint our landscapes with color.”

Skip says to think of the book as an owner’s manual: “Each month is divided into the major tasks involved in establishing and maintaining a healthy, attractive, and productive garden and landscape. This includes the basics of gardening: planning, planting, plant care, watering, fertilizing, and problem-solving.” Skip’s writing is accessible and friendly, and in addition to the solid info, it’s generously illustrated with nice color photos of plant combos and people actively gardening. I could find no mention of the photographer, so I assume the images are Skip’s, as his bio mentions that he’s an avid photographer. The only incongruous image is, ironically, on the cover: a shot of James David and Gary Peese’s Austin garden, a beautifully crafted and horticulturally experimental showpiece — i.e., not the kind of garden that most beginner gardeners would aspire to emulate. Also, many of the photos appear to be of gardens in central, south, and east Texas, so west Texas desert gardeners may feel overlooked.

Considering the vastness of our state, however, the book does a great job of covering the basics. I wish I’d had a book like this when I started gardening in Texas 23 years ago.

As lovers of the outdoors, gardeners often enjoy photographing natural vistas and wildflowers, and Central Texans are lucky to have the gorgeous Hill Country at their doorstep. Each spring, if we’re having a good bluebonnet or Indian paintbrush season, I go on a wildflower photo safari through the Hill Country, looking for the most colorful views. I also enjoy photographing sights around Austin. So when I spotted Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (2012, The Countryman Press) at Book People, I couldn’t resist buying a copy.

Author Laurence Parent, a resident of Wimberley, has photographed covers for Texas Highways and other publications, and he’s scouted hundreds of great locations throughout Central Texas. Dividing the region into four areas — western Hill Country, eastern Hill Country, Austin, and San Antonio — he lists between 10 and 23 locations for each area, describing each with details of the scenery, how to access good photography spots, the best time of year to shoot, and even what sort of weather conditions to look for to get an extra special shot. Rural locations include state parks, caverns, rivers, likely wildflower-peeping routes, and canyons. Urban locations include city skylines, botanical gardens and parks, historic districts, cathedrals and missions, universities, and bridges.

Parent’s gorgeous photographs tantalize throughout the book, tempting you to visit his locations to see if you can duplicate these moments or capture an original one of your own. This is both a travel book and a photography instruction manual I’ll refer to again and again.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Book Review Week is happening all this week right here at Digging! Do you have an Amazon gift card from the holidays burning a hole in your pocket? Need a good gardening book to get you through winter? Come here first for my recommendations.

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Follow