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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

The Ultimate Garden Party!

by Aileen Carroll for Van Winden’s Garden Center

Warm weather makes us want to gather in our gardens. In order to throw the best garden party ever be sure to invite the birds, butterflies, and bees! Laying out a banquet for these party guests means planting trees, shrubs and perennials with flowers, berries and (sometimes) delicious leaves. While it’s true that the ultimate feast for our local wildlife is a native oak tree, not everyone has space for one of these majestic giants. A shame, because an oak tree supports more butterflies, birds and bees than any other plant! Tagging just behind, in terms of importance to local fauna, is none other than poison oak! It’s a rare gardener who is willing to invite this plant into their garden space though. Here are some suggestions for easy dinner fare for some of our favorite garden guests. Adding the following plants and features will make garden party attendees feel welcome and right at home.

Butterflies... Perhaps the best dressed garden party guests, butterflies put on a fantastic show with their colorful wings. Plants with broad ‘landing pad-shaped’ flowers like yarrow and milkweed are exactly what so many butterflies are looking for. Of course, kids are welcome to this garden party too, so be sure to plant for caterpillars. Narrow-leaf milkweed is great for monarch caterpillars, maypop passionflower is a favorite for Gulf fritillary caterpillars, and bronze fennel is a choice snack for swallowtail caterpillars. Painted lady caterpillars eat calendula, hollyhock, and mallow leaves while acmon blue caterpillars eat buckwheat and lupine. There are more than 137 types of butterflies and moths in Napa County, so consider planting a wide variety of flowers to appease all appetites. Also consider: California lilac, lupine, purple needlegrass, monkeyflower, manzanita, coyote mint, zinnias, Mexican sunflower, echium, or salvia.

Birds...  Every party needs a raucous group of extroverts to liven things up! Birds do just that with their calls and songs. Now, we’re not calling hummingbirds lushes, but it dosen’t take much to get them to hang around. It’s true that hummers prefer red flowers like cardinal monkeyflower and abutilon, but so long as there is a steady supply of nectar, they are happy! Other birds prefer the insects that hang out with flowers. Goldfinches love tall verbena for this very reason. Seeds are of course a happy bird snack. Sunflowers and buckwheat are sure to bring in finches, sparrows, juncos, and towhees. Shrubs with berries like toyon are a favorite for western bluebirds, and robins. Lastly, a water source like a fountain or birdbath is a sure way to support birds and supply them with what they need to hang around for a while. Also consider: columbine, coffeeberry, manzanita, artemisia , ceanothus, dogwood ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’, CA fuchsia, lupine, Oregon grape, and elderberry.


Bees really know how to belly up to the bar. Did you know that there are more than 1,600 species of bee in California? Don’t worry, you don’t have to host them all. But if you want to get the bees really excited then be sure to plant California fuchsia. These tubular flowers are too long for short bee tongues but they have a trick up their tiny sleeves. Larger bees come along and punch holes in the base of each flower. This “backdoor” is then used by a veritable parade of smaller bees! Another popular nectar source that grows well in the Napa Valley is nepeta. Plant a few nepeta perennials and you are likely to see digger bees, blue orchard bees, and even leafcutter bees. While nectar and pollen are often what bees are chasing, certain species of bee actually look for the leaves of roses and redbuds! These “leaf-cutter bees” snip tidy half moons from their favorite plants and use them to build homes for their young. The lacey foliage that remains might be considered ‘decoration’ for your garden party. Also consider: salvia, penstemon, yarrow, alyssum, russian sage, aster, ceanothus, CA poppies, gaillardia, lavender ‘Goodwin Creek’, coffeeberry, toyon, coyote mint, buckwheat, primrose, and verbena. There are many others you can invite to your garden party such as the delicate lacewings, the all-business soldier beetles, and the elegant snake-neck flies who all prefer to dine on aphids. Ladybugs and honeybees will of course be in attendance. Some of these may end up being dinner for the birds but, as they say, all’s fair in love and war.


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