You Want Hummingbirds? Grow Scarlet Runner Beans
They love 'em.
"Do you want these hummingbird feeders?" asks my brother-in-law's husband Brad. Darn—they've done it again. I was going to buy one for my husband's birthday, in fact, I'd already bought it online. They mind read, I swear.
We got the hummingbird feeders, and the birthday present arrived. Three feeders around the garden and soon after the hummingbirds arrived, squeaking and darting about chasing each other.
Okay. This is good.
I plan to grow an edible garden from scratch. We bought this house on the outskirts of Portland, OR almost a year ago. The small garden was mature (read: overgrown). When you walk out onto the covered patio you are greeted by an enormous coastal redwood. All you can see is the huge red trunk which is 14ft in diameter. A baby.
Our Baby Redwood Tree
The back of the garden looks out onto quiet green space. Douglas firs, holly, maples, oak trees and 2 magnificent blue hydrangeas, one a mop head and the other a lace cap. Yes, there's a difference.
From late winter onward we've been digging, planning, buying plants, seeds, containers, fertilizer, garden tools, and pretty things to decorate outside. I love growing, picking and eating my own vegetables and herbs. I'm British and this North West Pacific climate is as close as I can get to the UK rain. No wonder I feverishly watch Gardener's World on the BBC—each episode correlates with my 8b temperature zone.
Must. Grow. Vegetables. This is the mantra going through my every waking moment. The freshly dug soil is well-used. Spanish bluebells, daylilies, bearded iris, daphne, Japanese anemones, daffodils, crocus, and a billion more wildflowers and weeds have been using up the nutrients. What better plant to put in this needy earth than a Scarlet Runner Bean? They are utterly breathtaking when they flower; they fix nitrogen in the soil, they are prolific bearers, and I can grow them in this area.
Let me explain the importance of the last statement: I CAN GROW THEM IN THIS AREA. Scarlet Runner beans don't like excessive heat and they certainly do not like humidity. They like growing in England where it is wet and cool. So when you try to make them do their thing in the state of Virginia (which I confess I did) they will laugh at you and wilt. Certainly the beans don't come. And they definitely do not like growing in Florida so I didn't even try.
But they grow here. Like crazy.
We built a tall teepee with cut tree branches tied together with twine. I love how it looks—rustic and gnarly. I buried 2 seeds on the inside of each branch, watered the spot, and waited. The beans sprouted. They started slow and then BAM, they ran. Should have known—the name gives it away.
Teepee Frame for Climbing Vegetables
10 feet later and flower spikes emerge. Incredibly pretty, bright red flowers like little snapdragons bloom. We watch bees wiggle and fiddle, fitting themselves inside each blossom to get at the nectar. Anticipation builds, and then all the flowers drop. No beans.
Research online doesn't really explain what happened to the first flush. It could be the weather was too hot just when the fruit was ready to set? We had an over 100-degree heatwave at the exact moment of flowering. Maybe the vine was working out how to grow and this was a first attempt? Who knows. But it made me sad.
The runner bean, however, was not at all sad and carried on regardless. A second flush of flower stems produced a mass of the red blossoms and then... magic. The hummingbirds who had up until now, been darting about slurping sugar syrup from the feeders, starting eating the nectar straight from the flowers.
Scarlet Runner Bean Vine
The common Anna hummingbird is tiny, as a hummingbird should be. It's vocal. You can hear them twittering and chattering as they fly. They are aggressive to each other. You won't see two birds on a feeder, or on the same plant. There WILL be a fight. One of the birds will chase the other one off before going back to feed. Their throats are covered in iridescent red and the back of their wings are a gorgeous emerald green.
But what you see is a minuscule brown bird zooming about. Until the sun shines on its feathers and suddenly they glow.
All day they feed on the Scarlet Runner bean flowers. If I am in the garden they will come close and look at me. Humming away in front of my face. Mesmerizing and a little scary (I worry they will poke my eyes out!).
Scarlet Runner Bean Flowers
They LOVE the Scarlet Runner bean flowers.
And the Scarlet Runner bean loves them because there are now billions of tiny beans growing.
That's how you get hummingbirds into your garden.