Originally published May 10, 2017
By Ciscoe Morris, former In the Garden writer
AS AN AMAZING Mother’s Day surprise, team with the kids to create a container garden filled with plants that attract hummingbirds or butterflies.
Begin by buying quality potting soil and a large ceramic pot. They come in a wide variety of colors and will last a long time, as long as they’re frostproof. Drainage is a necessity, so if the pot doesn’t have drain holes in the bottom, ask the nursery to drill them for you.
For the centerpiece, choose an architectural, upright shrub or perennial that is well-proportioned to the size of the pot. Look for a plant with special qualities, such as colorful leaves, intriguing texture or showy flowers. Place it in the center if the pot will be seen from all sides, or in the back if the container is going against a wall or in a corner. Plan to locate the pot in a sunny spot protected from wind.
Next, fill in with a variety of mid-size plants. Again, choose plants with interesting textures and colorful foliage or flowers. Cram them in closely. When you’re finished, the design should look lush and full. You don’t want to have to wait half the summer for the plants to grow and fill in the gaps. Finally, leave a little room near the edge of the pot to squeeze in some trailing plants to spill over the side.
To keep the hummingbirds and butterflies hanging around, choose plants that bloom all season with nectar-rich flowers. Two centerpiece candidates that are highly attractive to hummingbirds are flowering maple (Abutilon) and hardy fuchsia. Both come in a variety of sizes, love sun, and produce colorful flowers that hummingbirds can’t resist.
Fill in around them with mid-size hummingbird favorites such as Nicotiana (tobacco flower), Pelargonium (geranium), Heuchera (coral bell), Zinnia or Mimulus (monkey plant). Spice up the combination by adding spiky golden-leaved pineapple sages. The leaves smell like pineapple, and hummingbirds are gaga over the fiery scarlet flowers. Finally, pick out hummingbird favorites, like nasturtium or ivy geranium to spill over the sides.
If Mom loves butterflies, there are plenty of plants with nectar-producing flowers that attract them, but each kind of butterfly has its own preference, so plant a variety of butterfly favorites to increase your chances of attracting different species.
‘Tuscan Blue’ Rosemary makes a great centerpiece. It has an elegant upright form, can be pruned to any shape or height, has very aromatic dark-green leaves that are great for cooking and produces deep-blue flowers winter through spring. It’s perfect for a Mother’s Day pot because, according to European folklore, if there is beautiful rosemary growing in your garden, it means a woman is the head of the household.
Some mid-size plants guaranteed to attract butterflies include Aster, Scabiosa (pincushion flower), Echinacea (cone flower), Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), Coreopsis (tickseed) and Hibiscus. For trailing plants, Verbena, Lantana and weeping Lobelia are butterfly magnets. Butterflies also like to drink out of puddles. Bury a cup up to its rim in the planter; fill it with sand; and then keep it full of liquids, such as stale beer, fruit juice or water. Stick a chunk of overripe fruit among the plants as a special treat.
Don’t worry if you’re artistically challenged. Quality nurseries have talented employees who can help you pick out the perfect plants. If you go that route, swear the kids to secrecy. Mom will be impressed with your artistic ability.