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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Old Friends

MIMI AND I LOVE to watch the New Orleans Saints play football on TV on Sundays this time of year. We will work our Sundays around their schedule so we can be somewhere watching them whether it be a 12 p.m. game (least favorite time) or a 3 p.m. game (favorite time) or the dreaded 7 p.m. game (heavens forbid we’re forced to stay awake past 9 p.m.). The 3 p.m. games give us a chance to have a slow morning, knock a few things off our yard list, wear ourselves out and feel worthy of a plop down, kick our feet up and enjoy sweating out yet another nail biter, you never know with the Saints.

I will usually have the grill fired up so at half time we can munch out on something tasty. We usually will ask someone to watch the game with us but not just anyone, they have to be into watching the game and not so much trying to talk over the game. Those folks are easy to find. There are lots of big Saints fans around here. For the first real game of the season, we were invited to our oldest friends’ house to watch the game with them. They are bigger Saints fans than we are. In fact they turned us on to the whole Saints thing a long time ago. We knew they would be into watching as intently as we like too.

We go so way back. It’s like hanging out with family. My father was a fraternity brother and roommate during college at Mississippi State with my buddy’s father. They would tell me and my buddy stories that would make our moms blush. They got into all kinds of trouble back in the fifties. We lived close to each other growing up in Jackson and were later roommates when we went to State. He was in my wedding and I was in his. He married a wonderful girl who Mimi and I love being around. We’ve been on several big trips together to the beaches, New Orleans several times and we went to Costa Rica together for one of my all time favorite trips ever. Our kids get along with theirs. In fact Max wound up being their son’s roommate while he was getting his horticulture degree at Mississippi State. We kinda are family.

We knew this would be a fun game and that we’d be eating something out-of-this -world good since his wife’s hobby is cooking great food. One of my favorite parts about going to visit them is to give my buddy a hard time about his yard even though he actually takes really good care of their yard. I like to hang around his yard and point out more ways he could work harder and spend more money in his yard even though it is really beautiful with a great pool in the back and a neatly landscaped pool house. We appreciate that they let our landscape team design and install the plantings around the pool.

When we arrived I could tell he was excited to show me something new in their back yard. When we got back there I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A few years back he had started keeping his hummingbird feeders full. This year he had so many hummingbirds buzzing around it felt almost dangerous. There must have been hundreds of them. They were flying and flitting about. They were perching on things and there were even more in the magnolia trees nearby waiting on their chance to get some sweet nectar without too much of a fight.

I’d heard of people having this many at one time, but it is surreal to walk out amongst them and hear their wings buzzing and to have them curiously come very close to make sure my face wasn’t something they could get some nectar from. It was a frenzy.

A ruby throated hummingbird whizzed past bringing me out of my daze. These little dudes do some traveling continuously searching for nectar. They can travel up to 23 miles a day. There are 10 species of hummingbirds that have been identified in Mississippi. The ruby throated is the most common.

IN FEBRUARY OR March hummingbirds began to show up. The males appear a week or so earlier than the females. The male ruby throated hummers don't have any white tips on their tails. The females do and as usual in the bird world, they are more brightly colored. Hummingbirds don't travel in flocks so their arrival is staggered. They leave Central and South America to arrive in Mississippi around March which is thousands of miles away, not bad for the world’s smallest bird. They do this amazing feat every year for three to five years (their life span) by beating their wings 50 to 70 times a second. Hummingbirds have been known to cross the Gulf of Mexico in one day, that is 650 miles.

That uses a lot of energy which they get from the nectar of brightly colored red, white, scarlet and orange flowers. They need to take in 50% of their body weight in flower nectar each day. Hummingbirds get their protein requirements from eating spiders and insects. For that reason I don't use insecticides on the plants that are there to attract hummers.

What amazes me most about them is that not only do they typically go back to the same yard each year, but they show up at the same time as the year before within a day or two. Once you have hummers coming to your place as long as you provide them either the right environment or the feeders filled with sugar water they will come back every year. That's pretty cool when you consider what they must go through to get here.

This month is the time you may see some of the regulars peeling off for South America and you may begin to see some new ones that have been hanging around someone's yard up north as they pass through on their way south of the border. Keep the feeders out for a while longer or at least until you're not seeing any more over a two week period, that's a sign that the show is over. It may last close to November depending on the weather.

To get ready for their arrival in March is to plant the right plants this fall and the spring. They are attracted to bright colors some of which will provide more nectar than others. Use bright colored annuals to lure them in, but make sure to plant plants that provide lots of nectar to ensure they will stay or supplement with the sweet water and the bright color feeders. It's best not to hang feeders near your other bird feeders as they can be intimidated by larger birds. You won't need the sugar water once you get the correct combination of plants going.

You need to plant the right nectar providing plants that either bloom for the entire season or at least crossover with other varieties so something is always blooming. It is best to plant a large group of flowering plants rather than a single source. The extra blooms provide more food and are more noticeable and since hummingbirds are fiercely territorial you should plant in several places throughout the landscape.

Annuals that attract them with bright colors are begonia, geranium, impatience, nasturtiums, petunias and zinnias. Some of the perennials that bring them in are the bomb, butterfly weed, kanas, lobelia cardinalis, ajuga, lantana, flocks, verbena and salvia. There are vines, trees and shrubs that will help you attract them also such as azalea, yucca, honeysuckle, cypress vine, tulip poplar, and locust. You get the picture, anything bright colored with tube shaped flowers.

A great way to learn more about attracting hummingbirds and to see lots of them is to take a road trip to either the Pascagoula River Audubon Center or go to the hummingbird festival sometime in September at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs. Last year they canceled the festival because of the pandemic. I'm not sure if it's going to be on this year or not but they have a prime spot for viewing and learning about hummers.

ATTRACTING THESE world travelers to your yard is a fun hobby that will only make your landscape look better, and, of course, kids love to watch them. I’ve seen some people get the curious little birds to land on their hands. We sell hummingbird rings for that purpose. Well we actually give them away to the kids who come to our garden center who seem thrilled at the idea of having them buzzing around them while they sip nectar from a nectar filled ring on their fingers.

I hope you will have a worldly adventure in your own backyard. Get the right plants going and make it a setting that is calm and peaceful for yourself and for your visitors from South America every year.

There are so many changes occurring in our world right now, I don't want to bury my head in the sand because I think the changes are interesting. Some of these changes have been a long time coming. At the same time I want to protect my mental and physical health by not letting some of the stuff going on get me down. Staying busy in my yard and helping others with their yard has been a great relief for me. I'm hoping that everyone finds their peace.

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