This is one of those weather-perfect days I wish would never end. There is no breeze, and my lovely clematis vine, draped over the alley fence, exhibits a billion white perfumed flowers. The grass is alternately bright and shadowed as the playful, sleepy sun flits between fluffy pink clouds. The secret garden is open a bit later in the evening these last few precious days- to 6:00 or so- in case visitors might want to venture in to absorb the glory.
Soon enough the garden will shed its leafy finery; worms will dive deep into the cooling beds to escape the first frost, birds will abandon their morning songs to stock up on procrastinating worms and perhaps navigate south to warmer climes. I’ll look out at the multiple shades of fading green and gold and sigh that the season is done…
But, not yet!
I stare in disbelief at the massive sweet autumn clematis vines, whose countless delicate starflowers are an irresistable attraction for delighted honeybees.
The sweet alyssum, gently cut back in mid-summer, has a freshened, fragrant display, along with purple basil, Russian sage, lavender, mint and feverfew. The entire walled garden is bathed in the early evening’s fragrance. Dozens of bees happily hover above the ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, sipping nectar from the ripened pink broccoli-like buds of that charming succulent.
Sitting quietly on the lawn I hear a steady hmmmm. There! A ruby-throated hummingbird (whose wings beat up to 70 times per second) pauses just inches away to probe the last lovely hisbiscus flowers before joining the bees to enjoy the ripened sedum. Four more tiny birds hover so close I could reach out and touch them!
Heavens! There are three more hummingbirds on the other side of the path, sampling sedums. And on my left, two more mini-avians explore the mint. The secret garden is awash in perfume and hummingbirds.
One tiny creature lights on a lily stalk just inches from my nose, and I realize how short its legs are. Hummers don’t hop, or walk. They only perch, and fly. This tiny beauty rests for just a few seconds before lifting off again.
I move closer to the huge sedums. There, gleaming in the sunlight, is a gossamer spider web woven between two of the stalks. Suddenly a hummingbird darts to it to steal a tidily wrapped dinner, and when the outraged spider rushes to the spot, it’s snapped up as well! I’ve read that hummers, who usually weigh between four and six grams (a penny weighs 2.5 grams), use sticky webs to line and strengthen their nests. They feast on mosquitoes, aphids, ants, and even caterpillars. Though no bigger than my thumb, hummers are very aggressive, fearlessly bullying bees that bumble into a feeding area they’ve claimed. It must make a busy bee dizzy to charge a hummer, only to have it vanish, then magically reappear behind him.
Now I witness something even more amazing. A gorgeous hummer is hovering upside down by the alley fence, effortlessly probing for nectar inside a drooping canna flower suspended seven feet above the ground. It’s an astounding display of aeronautical skill.
I’m immersed in this micro-world, spellbound by iridescent feathers, brilliant flying, and that soporific hummm, which intensifies and fades as the tiny creatures move close, then further away. I’ve never seen so many of these living jewels at once, and probably never will again.
Suddenly the garden bell rings; two older men stroll in and notice me sitting on the grass. I point to the hibiscus and say, quietly, “Look at all the hummingbirds!”
Enchanted, they stand there quietly, watching them hover and feed. A small beetle is parked inside a large white hibiscus flower, and then, suddenly, it isn’t. Has the world’s tiniest avian eaten it? Well, one just devoured a decent-sized spider and its fly-dinner. So, why not?
We chat quietly about hummingbird migration habits. So much about their lives remains a mystery, as it’s nearly impossible to track their movements with accuracy. (Workers on oil platforms 200 miles into the Gulf of Mexico have reported sighting the walnut-sized birds whizzing just over the waves toward Central America and Mexico. Scientists do know that they lead solitary lives, which can last over a decade. Recently one bird was miraculously recaptured; its tracking device was 12 years old!)
It is well after closing time when the dreamy-eyed men leave, eager to describe the garden’s natural magic to their families.
This fall display is Nature’s final fling before she moves down south. Soon I’ll close, and prepare everything for snow,
but for now-
I look around.
A small breeze stirs the fragrant air.
One small rabbit peacefully nibbles clover close by my shoe as this lovely evening moves gently into night...