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Gardening: Mild winter brings unlikely visitors – Anna’s hummingbirds

Just to show you how mild a winter we have had so far, I had my first garden tour of the year last Sunday with a little twist. Michael Loundagin, an old friend who is well known in the local nursery industry, emailed last Thursday that he had two Anna’s hummingbirds, a male and a female, visiting a feeder left over from last summer. I grabbed my camera and headed for his South Hill garden.

This isn’t the first time hummingbirds have wintered in Spokane. Several years ago, a couple in the Spokane Valley successfully wintered an Anna’s hummingbird by meticulously hanging out a warm feeder early in the morning and keeping it thawed through the day. Annabelle the hummingbird stayed into late March before disappearing.

We were hoping to catch a good picture of the little visitors but alas, they didn’t show up. So we did the next best thing and went garden touring instead. Loundagin’s garden is in the South Hill banana belt, so he can grow plants that the rest of us can only dream about. He estimates his garden is in a high USDA Zone 6 pocket, a zone warmer than the rest of the Spokane area.

Being a self-described plant nerd and collector, Loundagin has filled his tiny garden with such plants as windmill palm trees, fatsia, evergreen magnolia, winter jasmine and daphne. He even has a Korean Fire camellia that is supposed to be hardy to -22 degrees. Normally camellias are hardy to about USDA Zone 7. All these plants thrive on the coast’s warmer climate.

Loundagin’s garden location is one of the keys to his success with plants. The other is that he has developed a simple way to keep his plants from freezing in the pots on his patio, especially his windmill palms. The palms can only take a few hours of really cold weather before the roots and top growing point start dying.

To forestall this, Loundagin has wrapped the pots with strings of small incandescent Christmas lights and then wrapped insulation and black plastic around the lights and the pots. He leaves one or two lights on the outside as a safety check to ensure that the power is on. “It’s a very inexpensive way to keep the roots from freezing and killing the plant,” he said.

Several of the plants were showing new flower buds as we walked through the garden. The winter jasmine and winter sweet buds will open with a few more warm winter days and fill the garden with sweet scents. The Korean Fire camellia’s pink flowers will open later in February. The Nepalese paper daphne won’t be far behind with pink flowers that scent the air with a powerfully sweet fragrance.

In his front yard, Loundagin has what is probably the tallest grove of bamboo in the region. His clump of Lewis’ nuda bamboo tops out at around 30 feet and is equally wide.

“The birds love to roost in it, especially the robins,” he said.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 40 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at [email protected]