Hummingbirds and butterflies can be attracted to your garden space with the addition of a number of flower-producing vines, shrubs, and trees that can be planted for this purpose. This article will list several varieties to get you off to a good start.
Some of the hardier plants that butterflies enjoy for their nectar include Agapanthus africanus ‘Peter Pan’; Shasta Daisy, (Chrysanthemum maximum); Dianthus species, especially D. ‘Allwoodii’, D. caryophyllus, D. deltoides, D. caesius, and D. plumarius: the Purple Coneflower, (Echinacea purpurea); and the hybrid perennial Gaillardia X grandiflora.
If your garden includes herbs, butterflies are known to have a fondness for Borago officinalis, whose tender leaves are delicious in salads. They are also partial to Rosmarinus officinalis, whose leaves are used as a seasoning and the flowers can be used in salads. A slightly larger addition to your herb garden might be the “Chaste Tree” (Vitex agnus-castus), a deciduous, manageable shrub or small tree that produces a massive display of fragrant purple flowers, which can be used in desert lavender sachets. (If the flowers are allowed to go to seed, the seeds of this plant can be steeped in water to produce an herbal tea which is used by many as a hormonal balancing therapy.)
Hummingbirds love the trumpet-shaped flowers of several flowering vines in the Bignoniaceae family that will climb a fence or drape on your balcony railing. The hardiest of these is the Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans), whose rapid growth makes it a good choice as a quick summer screen on a fence or balcony railing, even in areas where it is killed to the ground in deep winter freezes. They will visit the orange tubed and scarlet lobed flowers from mid-summer into fall. Less hardy but quite showy is the Cape Honeysuckle (Tacoma capensis), with its orange-red flowers on a vine that can ramble 20-30 feet if allowed, but that can be pruned to make a compact upright balcony or garden shrub.
Every bit as showy is its tree-like relative, the “Yellow Trumpet Tree” (Tecoma stans), which may die back in hard freezes, but here again, pruning will produce a seasonal shrub-like plant whose new growth in spring will start quickly. Other useful plants for patio or balcony are compact forms of the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), and some of the bottle-brushes, such as Callistemon viminalis “Captain Cook,” whose dense compact form produces bright red flower brushes. The Arbutus and some of the bottle-brushes can be kept to six feet tall. Finally. if your zone and garden allow, Eucalyptus nicholii and Eucalyptus gunnii are two of the more cold hardy varieties. Both grow quickly but can be kept relatively short for many years. Most of the Eucalyptus are loved by hummingbirds, providing both flower nectar and nesting habitat.
Balcony or backyard gardeners specializing in bonsai need not feel left out. There are several plants that will attract adult butterflies and hummingbirds that can also be effectively grown as bonsai. Both Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) are spectacular bonsai plants with pronounced trunks and masses of flowers. The Japanese wisteria blooms with leaf out over a longer period, while the Chinese wisteria blooms prior to leaf out, but the blooms nearly all open at once for a spectacular show.
The flowering Quince (Chaenomeles sp.) also make interesting bonsai subjects. The quince are among the first small trees and shrubs to bloom each year and are almost bullet-proof to grow. They take extremes of heat and cold and are not picky about soil. A particularly good variety quince for bonsai is Chaenomeles ‘Contorta’, which is a low-grower and usually has twisted branches which lends character to its form as a bonsai. Many varieties of flowering quince bear small quince-like fruit. Most of the varieties are a little thorny.
In this article I have only listed a few of the different types of plants that can be added to your garden space that will be inviting to hummingbirds and butterflies. The plants you choose need to reach flowering size within the confines of your garden space and should be hardy for your climate zone. It is also important to note that I have not listed the plants that encourage butterfly egg depositing and larva development. My aim has been to provide varieties of plants that will not necessitate an increase in pestcide use. If, on the other hand, you become a fanatic and are willing to accept larva damage, you can contact your local nursery or email the author for a list of larva-inviting plants to add to your gardens.
Keep in mind that there will be plants that are particular to your area as known attractants. Check with your local Ornithology and Lepidoterist societies to narrow or expand your list of plants that will increase the visitations. In no time, the air around your garden will be alive with the whispering wings of these welcome visitors.