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Attracting Hummingbirds Into The Garden

Few things are more breathtaking than hummingbirds zipping through the garden, checking out what's in bloom and occasionally resting on nearby branches.  They frequent landscapes that provide a variety of plants with nectar rich flowers, access to water from birdbaths and water features and the ability to perch in neighboring trees and shrubs.

Left:  Adult Female Anna's Hummingbird, Photo by Paul Coral:  Right:  Adult Male Anna's Hummingbird, Photo by Paul Higgins

These small birds have amazing metabolism, with heart rates that can reach over 1000 beats per minute.  To fuel themselves they need to consume more than their weight in nectar and insects each day, often feeding every 15-20 minutes.  According to Washington Despartment of Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Russell Link, They store food in their crop, a thin walled sac that holds food and nectar, digesting it slowly while they are resting.  During the night and extended cold spells "hummers" go into a torpor, a semi-hibernation state, lowering their metabolism down to 1/15th of their normal rate.

Left:  Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird, Photo copyright: cdbtx, Monroe, WA:   Right  Adult Male Rufous Hummingbird, Photo by Jeff Larson

In Washington's Puget Sound region we are fortunate to have two hummingbirds that are commonly seen.  Our year-round residents, Anna's Hummingbirds are slightly larger, at 4" in length and weighing 0.15oz.  Birds are mostly iridescent green and gray.  Male Anna's are easily identified with their distinct rosy heads and throats. Rufous Hummingbirds are summer residents, migrating from the southwest region of Mexico.  They are  3.75" in length and weighing 0.12oz.  Females have greenish gold heads and back, with a white breast and iridescent reddish spot on the center of their throats.  Males have reddish-oranger throats and chin, with reddish brown (rufous) face and sides.  Their backs  and foreheads are sometimes green.

Because they consume both flower nectar and a variety of garden insects, it's important to have a pesticide free garden.  They are most attracted to tubular flowers that are bright red and orange, but they will frequent many other nectar rich plants.  Using taller annuals, perennials and shrubs will help to keep them out of harm's way from neighborhood cats.  "Hummers" have incredible memories, coming back to the same plants year after year.  insects provide necessary protein to their diet.  They are often observed eating gnats, mosquitoes, aphids and catepillars.  After eating spiders, hummingbirds will take their webs and integrate them in their golf ball size nests, fortifying their strength.

A Short List of Plants:

Trees:  Carolina Silverbell, Eastern Redbud, Flowering Crabapples, Japanese Snowbell, Pacific Madrona (native)      

Shrubs to Small Trees:  Dwarf Strawberry Tree, Red Buckeye, Elderberry (native)

Shrubs:  Charity Mahonia, Hardy Fuchsia, Mock Orange (native), Ninebark (native), Red Flowering Currant (native), Weigela

Vines:  Coral Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine

Perennials:  Agastache, Crocoasmia, Lupine, Upright Lobelia, Penstemons, Salvia

Annuals:  Begonias, Nicotiana, Salvia, Tender Abutilon, Tender Fuchsia, Tender Geraniums

Left: Japanese Snowbell, Photo,;  Center: Charity Mahonia, Photo, Gardeners'; Left: Hardy Fuchsia, Photo, JeanRey Nursery

Left:  Red Flowering Currant, Photo,; Center:  Western Mock Orange, Photo, Bob Sikari; Right:  Cardinal LobeliLa

Left:  Agastache, Photo, Denver Botanic Garden,  Center:  Salvia "Blue Cloud", Photo,;  Right:  Abutilon "Apricot", Photo, Kees Hiddinga


1.  Audubon,  2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, 3.  Link, Russell, Landscaping for Wildlife, copyright 1999, University of Washington Press




Northgate Mall’s “Telescopic Swales”

The "Telesopic Swales" at Northgate Mall provides a model of how parking lots can eloquently integrate natural drainage systems to mitigate stormwater runoff.  Meeting goals of Low Impact Development (LID), Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) developed a feasibilty study for Northgate Mall owners demonstrating how a series of natural drainage systems could be less expensive than a standard parking lot with the necessary underground infrastructure needed to meet current City of Seattle water quality codes.  SPU calculated mall owners could save 12% in costs in addition to enhancing the parking lot with trees and vegetation.  The swales "collect, filter, infiltrate and convey" stormwater from the parking lot, improving the water quality of Thornton Creek (City of Seattle, DPD)

Telescopic Swale, Photo by M L Smith

The Mall's owners agreed to be a case study for parking lot mitigation if they could retain the same number of parking spaces.  The redesign meet these goals.  The Telescopic Swales" are 4' in width at the highest points, allowing for larger parking spaces closet to storefronds.  Swales widen as they extend further down slope, allowing for greater retention capacity as the potential stormwater volume increases.  Parking at that point are configured for compact cars.  The inner and outer raingardens at both ends of the sales, increase stormwater capacity while visually and aesthetically defining parking aisles.

Telescopic Swale, Photo by M L Smith

Like the Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, there are valuable lessons that can be used in residential landscapes.  Some ideas include: choice of plants, use of curb cuts to allow mulitiple entry points into raingarden swales, adding check dams to slow water velocity, and how "telescopic swales" can provide flexibility within certain site=specific constraints.


Check Dams in Swales, by ML Smith



Rainwater Management Lessons From Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel

The Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel is a great example of how a stormwater facility can be integrated within high density development.  The project was designed by SvR, a multidisciplinary company of civil engineering, landscape design, environmental restoration and planning in cooperation with Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).  SPU and SvR worked closely with neighboring building developers to provide a 2.7 acre public open space that functions as a stormwater catchment facility for a 680 acre area designed for small, high frequency storms. Stormwater comes from Interstate 5, North Seattle Community College, Northgate Mall, the North Public Transit Hub and surrounding arterials.  Opening in 2009, the "Channel" expanded the open space for the Northgate Urban Center by almost 50% and linked pedestrians to surrounding commercial areas. 

Thornton Creek, a critical salmon bearing stream, had been in decline for many years due to increased urban density.  By diverting stormwater from the drainage pipe under the site into a series of swales, stormwater flow is slowed, allowing soil filtration and the removal of pollution before reaching the creek.

Though this is a highly engineered project, there are many lessons that can be adapted to smaller projects. Native plants connect the space to adjacent riparian zones as well as filter stormwater runoff.  Conveyance swales, pools and cascading weirs demonstrate ways to slow water movement and encourage greater soil filtration.  Boulders and woody debris further enhance the urban habitat.  Stonework transecting the bioswale and the playful site specific artwork of Benson Shaw demonstrates how stormwater solutions can be engaging, celebrating natural processes.  

This project is a valuable lesson on how stormwater management facilities can become valuable amenities to urban life.  When in Seattle, make sure you give yourself time to visit the site.  It's located just south of Northgate Mall, at the intersection of 5th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 103rd Street.

Left: Artist Benson Shaw's Bad Bouys (foreground) & Wiggle Posts; Right: Source of water to "Thornton Creek Channel" & Artist Benson Shaw's "Falling Waters".  Photos by ML Smith


For further Information:

SvR, Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, http://www/svrdesogm/cp,/tcwqc/html

Landscape Architecture Foundation, Case Study Briefs, Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel

SPU, Drainage & Sewer Systems, Projects, Thornto Creek Water Quality Channel,



Adding Edibles To Mixed Planting Beds

This growing season try adding a few edibles into your mixed planting beds.  There are many beautiful edibles that can easily be incorporated into existing beds.  I love the big bold leaves of cabbages, chard, collards, kale, some lettuce varieties, and rhubarb contrasting fine textured plants.  

In addition, the flowers and dark fruit color of eggplants offer intrigue, while the silver foliage and upright habit of artichokes provides a great accent to mixed planting beds.   The colorful stems of some Swiss Chard cultivars add additional interest to the mixed garden bed.

Others edibles, like beans, cucumbers, peas, and tomatos would look great trained on a beautiful trellis or garden obelisk.  These structures can continue to provide interest throughout the year.  

You'll have the best success grouping plants with similar cultural needs, paying attention to watering and fertilizer needs as well as sun requirements. 


Favorite Seed Companies:  Abundant Life, Renee's Garden, Seeds of Change, Territorial Seeds

Upcoming Vegetable Plant Sales in the Greater Seattle area:

Seattle Tilth:  

Cool Season Crops Sale, March 17, 9am to 3pm, Magnuson Park, 6310 NE 74th St., Seattle

May 5, 9am to 3pm, Meridian Park, 4649 Sunnyside Avenue N, Seattle, and                                    

May 12, 9am to 2pm, Issaquah Farmer's Market, 1730 10th Ave. NW, Issaquah

King County Master Gardeners:

May 5, 8am to 5pm, and May 6, 10am to 3pm, Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 NE 41st St. Seattle




late winter interest


Hamamelis intermedia 'Jelena' - Jelena Witchhazel

Galanthus nivalis - Snowdrops

Helleborus niger - Christmas Rose

Iris foetidissima - Gladwin Iris