Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Agastache rupestris
or Okay, okay, mea maxissima culpa!

The guilt-inducing power of many of the world's religions is impressive, indeed; almost as impressive as the power of certain mothers I have known (though fortunately not mine).   But if you want to experience real sackcloth-and-ashes, chest-pounding, gnashing-and-wailing self-recrimination, try pulling up a gardenful of Agastache rupestris, otherwise known as licorice mint.

Also known as hummingbird mint.

Hummingbirds love it.   A lot.   It turns out that in addition to being beautiful, feisty, and territorial, black-chinned hummingbirds are astonishingly good at making a grown woman feel very, very small.

Agastache rupestris
In my defense, let me say that I, too, love licorice mint.   A sturdy, drought-tolerant native of the American Southwest, it has airy, sage-green leaves, salmon-colored bloom spikes that last from mid-June to November, and a clean, anise-y scent.   It is one of my favorite plants of all time.   At one point, I had seven of them in my little garden, and if they had stayed the 24-30 inches tall and 18 inches wide that my garden books and catalogs promised me, I would have kept them all.   Instead, they grew to be five feet tall and 3 feet wide.   The hummingbirds were thrilled, but I could not find the garden beds, the paths, or Luther T. Dog.   And these were just immature plantings.   So this year, out they came, to be replaced by mild-mannered and above all short plants.   I still have two of them, which are suffering in containers but may survive the summer; the rest I gave to a friend.

For the record, I did not neglect the hummingbirds.   Theoretically, they are supposed to adore the blooms of autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius).   They do adore them—I have observed them in the very act of adoring them in other people's gardens—and so I planted a number of both.

"Wild Thing" Autumn Sage
Which the hummingbirds ignore magnificently.   (And ignoring "Wild Thing" autumn sage isn't easy.)   Instead of sampling the new plantings, the hummingbirds go to every place where an agastache used to be.   They hover.   They waste calories you know they can't afford.   (Don't you realize that they will have to migrate hundreds of miles south in just a few short months?   And in the meantime, they have mouths to feed—young, helpless nestlings to strengthen for the long flight!)   They find you in your comfy patio chair and hover in front of you, just to be sure they have your attention, and then return to the former homes of the agastache.  Each plant.   In turn.  (They remind you of Lassie trying to catch the attention of the obtuse parent while little Timmy is in danger.   Only Lassie is starving, and it is you who have stolen her favorite food dish.   Because you didn't like it.) 

They come back to hover in front of you a little more.   (Don't you know that hummingbirds have to consume more than their own weight in nectar every day??   Their 1,000 beats-per-minute heartrate doesn't just maintain itself, you know!)   They test the drumstick allium blossoms and turn away in disgust.   (They can literally starve overnight!   To death!   If they don't get enough nectar!)   Weary, they perch in a tree branch and look at where the agastache should be.   And then at you.   (So what if your neighbors—twenty feet away—have feeders that could keep every hummingbird in town fat and sassy all summer?   Sugar water is just Not the Same.)   They fly over to the finch feeder, a decorative jobby that happens to be their favorite shade of red.   (Ooh—sorrysorrysorry.)   They tap on it.   (And if the starving Lassie had risked her own life to rescue Timmy from the collapsed mine, you would have rewarded her with a rubber bone.)   They hover at you some more.  (Have you no shame?!)   Repeat daily.

Lately when they hover at me, I gesture at the autumn sage, which is blooming its little head off.   "Look here," I tell them,  "Just because you're used to eating prime rib, that doesn't make filet mignon a bad thing."   They feed at last.  One sip from one bloom on each plant.   One.  And then they return to where the agastache used to be and hover.   (Sigh.)

Guilty as charged, little ones.


  1. what beautiful photography and interesting plants. I too love licorice mint (and colourful beets too) :)

  2. Thanks, Stevie! Glad to find another licorice mint (and beet) lover. (Not together, though.) :)