Sunday, May 15, 2011

It’s Time to Welcome Hummingbirds!

Above the flower bed. Over the lawn ...
A flashing dip and it is gone.
And all it lends to the eye is this --
A sunbeam giving the air a kiss.
From: “The Hummingbird” ~ Harry Kemp

Today I spied the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of 2011 at my feeder.  About a month ago, I had placed a red flowering plant in a hanging pot near my feeder and had filled the feeder with my homemade nectar (see below).

The migratory Ruby-throated Hummingbird breeds in continental North America east of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes. They first start to appear at my home near Washington, D.C. in late March. A fascinating Spring 2011 migratory map can be found at:

In the fall, most hummingbirds of the U.S. and Canada migrate south - even before the flowers and insects start to wane - to spend the winter in northern Mexico or Central America. Males generally migrate several weeks ahead of new hatchlings and females. Migration is done according to changing day length or photoperiod.

Hummingbirds are found only in the earth’s western hemisphere, so they are absent from the traditional European and African fairy tales, legends, and myths. When European settlers first saw hummingbirds they considered them a cross between an insect and a bird. They wondered how so much life could be bound up in these buzzing little bundles of extravagantly-colored feathers with their whirring wings.

Yet, there is a very rich supply of stories and myths about and decorative and ceremonial uses for these beautiful birds in Native American cultures. It has been written that the Pilgrims met American Indian ambassadors with hummingbird earrings; and soldiers and missionaries in Mexico met Aztec kings who wore cloaks made entirely of hummingbird skins. Stuffed hummingbirds were worn as lucky charms to bring success in matters of the heart.

In southern Peru, ancient artists carved out an image of a hummingbird so large that it can only be recognized at about 1,000 feet in the air. This massive image may not be far from the place where, in primordial times, the first hummingbird appeared.

In Peru and other South American countries, at or near the equator, there are, even today, an amazing 300 varieties of hummingbirds. In today’s Mexico, there is a common folk belief that hummingbirds bring love and romance, and dead hummingbirds are sold as amulets.

To attract these tiny avian jewels, you can place a red table cloth or towel in your yard or garden a few weeks before migration is expected. Those who have a red car or truck in the driveway are especially able to attract hummers! My next project is to add some plants to my garden which attract hummingbirds – a list of these can be found at:

Preparing your own nectar is preferable to purchasing the expensive and less nutritious nectars sold commercially.

Cassandra’s Hummingbird Nectar Recipe

Add ¼ cup white granulated sugar to 1 cup boiling (to deter growth of bacteria in nectar) water
Cool and fill your red hummingbird feeder.
Any extra nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Note: Never use honey, artificial sweeteners, or red food coloring as these are harmful to hummingbirds.
To prevent mold, your feeder must be cleaned and nectar changed every 3-4 days -- more often in hot weather.

Within My Garden, Rides a Bird
by Emily Dickinson
Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel --
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As 'twere a travelling Mill --

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose --
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted --
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres --
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us,
If positive, 'twere we --
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity --

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye --
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!

To see some lovely hummingbird engravings from the 1832 book, Les Trochilidées ou les colibris et les oiseaux-mouches suivis d'un index général dans lequel sont décrites et classées méthodiquement toutes les races et espèces du genre Trochilus, Vol. II, by René Primevère Lesson, go to:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It’s Lilac Time!

I am thinking of the lilac-trees,
That shook their purple plumes,
And when the sash was open,
Shed fragrance through the room.
~ Anna S. Stephens

A lilac-themed corner in Cassandra's farmhouse parlor

I recently learned, via a gardening article in our local newspaper, why lilac blossoms are not as profuse in our Nation’s Capital region as at our upstate New York farm. Lilacs do not flower well in the Agriculture Department’s Zone 7 and in warmer hardiness zones. These zones also provide perfect conditions for powdery mildew to develop due to the oppressive heat of the summer months.

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
~ Walt Whitman—When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d. I. Leaves of Grass. 5

Lilacs must be planted to receive full sun, cold winter weather, and mild weather with good air circulation in spring and summer.  No wonder our New York lilacs are so beautiful – they were planted years ago in the perfect conditions!  How I love gathering huge bouquets of the sweetly fragrant blossoms...

Lilacs characteristically develop a mass of roots.  Lilac cuttings easily root if taken in mid-June.  The cuttings should be 8 to 10 inches long, dipped in a rooting hormone, and placed in a sand medium under mist.  Since lilac blooms occur on stems that formed last year, branches should only be pruned in late spring as flowers fade from these stems.  I don’t believe our New York lilacs have been pruned for years, but I look forward to wielding my pruning shears next month!

With every leaf a miracle … and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-colour’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
Walt Whitman—When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d. III. Leaves of Grass.

Two of Cassandra's Lilac-themed Decorative Bookcovers:

The lilac spread
Odorous essence.
~ Jean Ingelow—Laurance. Pt. III.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Mother’s Day

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us;
when adversity takes the place of prosperity;
when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us;
when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.
~Washington Irving

Beatrix & Friends...

Frolicking Lambs

Cassandra Follows...