For the Birds

Story Shannon Bardwell

Dianne and Jim Patterson moved into their Columbus home three decades ago in a neighborhood carved out of a farmer’s field. There wasn’t a blade of grass in the yard, but there was a post standing beside the new concrete patio. Dianne knew it would be the perfect place for a hummingbird feeder. What she didn’t know was that she would attract 50 hummingbirds on a single feeder.

The hummingbird gathering was the beginning of a life of all things hummingbirds. Dianne’s license plate, mailbox, wall hangings, dozens of feeders and even her email address speak hummingbird. She still giggles at the story of that first hummingbird dinner. Today finds her every bit as attracted to the hummers as they are to her.

Pristine feeders hang visible from both the front and back windows. Whether viewing from inside or outside, the hummingbirds clearly demand attention. Dianne’s hummingbirds are polite, each one sitting and sipping. Dianne says they do fight occasionally, as is the nature of the hummer, but by having plenty of feeders and natural attractants the hummingbirds are less territorial. Dianne has created a backyard playground for hummers as well as butterflies; many of the same plants attract each of the nectar lovers.

There is no insecticidal spraying at the Patterson home, which in and of itself is a feat in the sultry Southern climate. Dianne fingers the lacy leaves of a Turk’s Cap. Tiny flies swarm the plants as quarter-inch worms chew the green leaves. Dianne says, “Not to worry. Once the original leaves are chewed and the new leaves come out, they won’t eat the new growth.” She moves on to the next showy shrub unperturbed by what some folks would see as a nuisance.

“I try to steer away from hybrid plants and stick with native as much as possible. The hybrids are sterile, you know. I depend a great deal on my plants re-seeding themselves.”

At that Dianne points to a large raised bed of Lady-in-Red salvia, supposedly an annual. She finds that by leaving the flowering plant completely alone it re-seeds itself. This one now stands 6 feet tall. At the height of migration the scarlet salvia may serve 150 to 200 hummingbirds.

Several pipeline vines are encouraged up the wooden fence and over the top. The vines attract its eponymous butterfly.

“People destroy much of the natural habitat by cleaning out the understory, the vines, the natural shrubs and flowers. If ever you find pipeline vine encourage it. We can’t have enough. If we don’t maintain the habitat, we will lose the pipeline butterflies.”

While some gardeners discourage digging roadside wildflowers, Dianne begs to differ. “If we don’t save the wildflowers, roadside spraying will kill them. Dig responsibly,” she says.

Each year Dianne shops the best buys on garden soil and adds 20 to 30 pounds to her existing garden. Raking the soil in, she adds new seeds and plants she has purchased, saved, or found. She tops the soil with 4 to 5 inches of mulch to eliminate weeding and conserve moisture.

“Jim and I have accomplished our dream … this is our hummingbird haven.”


NECTAR: 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (no artificial dyes). Clean and fill feeders with fresh nectar every 3-4 days

HUMMINGBIRD FAVORITES: Porterweed, Anise Sage Salvia, Lady- in-Red Salvia, Coral Nymph Salvia, Cuphea (Firecracker Plant), Lantana, Texas Hibiscus, Turk’s Cap, Red Honeysuckle, Pentas, Jewelweed, Cardinal Flower