The iridescent flash of hummingbirds' wings, the fluttery beauty of butterflies, and the friendly buzz of bees can bring a garden alive. If you fill pots with carefully chosen plants, you can entice these creatures to your yard.
"Natives are the easiest, least-demanding plants I've grown," says Steven Rowland (pictured), a contractor living in Villa Park, California, whose pots are shown at right. "California natives don't need a lot of water. They rarely need to be fed. They can almost get by without you."
Native plants are magnets for wildlife; they evolved with the insects and animals. Bees especially are the plant kingdom's most important pollinators, says Mike Evans, co-owner of Tree of Life Nursery (949/728-0685), which specializes in California native plants.
But shrinking habitats threaten the existence of bees and many other wild creatures. Growing nectar-rich flowers to attract and feed wildlife is not just good entertainment, it's a public service. Butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and other pollinators will come for the banquet too.
The plants listed at right are California natives, but many of them also grow well in other areas of the West. Some, like penstemon, are found throughout the West but in different forms. Mountain and desert gardeners, for instance, can substitute the hardier firecracker penstemon (P. eatonii) ― hummingbirds love it.vWhen potting, select a fast-draining, lightweight soil that's not too rich in organics. Add controlled-release fertilizer to the mix at planting time and replenish it yearly. Water thoroughly when the top inch of the soil is dry.
Coast sunflower (Encelia californica): bees.
Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium): butterflies.
Coral bells (Heuchera): hummingbirds.
Coyote mint (Monardella villosa): bees, butterflies.
Creeping snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis): bees.
Penstemon (P. centranthifolius and P. spectabilis): bees, hummingbirds.
Prickly poppy (Argemone corymbosa): bees.
Salvia (S. clevelandii, S. 'Dara's Choice', and S. greggii): bees, butterflies, hummingbirds.
Sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus): hummingbirds.