Carolyn Singer
Special to The Union

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July 26, 2013
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Summer COLOR for the birds

While green is the essence of the most soothing colors in the landscape, I do like a splash of warmer colors here and there.

This summer I envisioned a hanging basket of red Impatiens on my porch to delight me as I drink my morning coffee leisurely.

Three times I planted the basket, only to watch the annual Impatiens disappear as the finches ate the leaves, flowers and buds, leaving only the succulent bare stems to resprout for more feasting. The young plants tried from six-packs vanished completely.

Now the early morning just after sunrise is spent first watching the twin fawns romp on the slope while their mother feeds on the green grass under the apple tree. Soon I am lured toward the edible garden where the flowers are safe from the deer and (so far) untouched by the finches.

First stop is the honeysuckle in full bloom this month. It is a cultivar of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) identified as ‘Purpurea’, a reference to the purple tones in the rich dark green foliage.

The fragrant flowers are large sprays, each blossom varying in color. Cream, pink shades, yellow and white give a glow to the cluster, and buds continue opening for several weeks.

I watch as a hummingbird sits atop the deer fence nearby, watching me as I watch her. Looking quickly from left to right, she seems to be deciding between this inviting perennial vine, and other enticements a few yards away. She swoops into the purple honeysuckle, targeting the most recently opened flowers, full of nectar.

I planted the honeysuckle inside the fence to protect it from the deer. The corner where it grows gives enough support that in six years, the vine has grown to the top wire and cascaded over on both sides of the fence. Although well within the reach of the deer outside the fence, they seem to prefer the neighboring grapes.

This honeysuckle is irrigated once a week in the heat of the summer. It does well with deep watering, grows vigorously, and there is no pruning of dead wood in the winter. In fact, in six years, I have done no maintenance.

I remember the more common honeysuckle growing over the pump house in rural Sonoma County where I lived most of my childhood. It was never irrigated, but there was dead wood often enough that my parents cut it back hard to clean it up every year.

Now a mature vine, each summer the honeysuckle is in bloom for several weeks. The fragrant flowers are followed by scarlet berries, a striking seasonal transition as fall approaches. The berries don’t last long. At the peak of ripeness, birds (mostly robins) feast.

Another dependable perennial vine near my rock garden also brings the hummingbirds close to the edible garden.

With red-orange large tubular flowers, the trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is now in bloom in many Grass Valley and Nevada City neighborhoods.

Trumpet vine, also called trumpet creeper, is native to the eastern United States. The honeysuckle is native to Japan, China and Korea.

This is a tough vine, and I suspect that less water may result in more flowers. It will even grow well in reflected heat from a driveway or road.

Full hot sun all day, and July temperatures over 100 degrees seem to have no ill effect.

Since the same foothill growing conditions would not work for the Impatiens I coveted, the trumpet vine appears to be the better choice for summer color in my country garden. It certainly lures me into the edible garden earlier instead of lingering on the porch!

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information, visit www.carolynsingergardens.com.


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The Union Updated Aug 5, 2013 11:35AM Published Jul 26, 2013 11:22PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.