Audubon at Home Sanctuary – Apartment Edition

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

By Maria Stewart

From March 2015 Turnip News, Master Gardeners Prince William

Do you think it’s too difficult to get your garden certified as an Audubon at Home Sanctuary? Or maybe, you think you don’t have enough room? Think again.

My husband and I live in a third story apartment with an eighteen square foot balcony. As of this writing, we are only two critters away from achieving the ten critters necessary to become certified. And we have not even been trying. Seriously. Here’s what happened.

It started two summers ago with a lonely lemon cucumber seedling from the Teaching Garden that Leslie Paulson assured me could be grown in a container (and she was right, it got huge). I set out a zinnia for the cucumber to help attract bees. Instead of bees, however, two days after setting out the zinnia, I noticed a buzzing blur above the flowers. I couldn’t believe it. It was a female rubythroated hummingbird, taking her time to sample all the blooms. Wow!

To stack my chances that this wouldn’t be a onetime visit, I added more zinnia and bee balm. I also added a hummingbird feeder, which we’re not technically allowed to have, but it’s a rule worth bending. Not only did the hummingbird come back, she claimed our balcony as her territory for the whole season.

After a couple of hard-fought tussles with interloping hummingbirds, we added a second screen to cover the unprotected side of the glass sliding door. Just some Velcro and a sheet of screening cut to size to remind the hummingbirds that they can’t fly through glass, no matter what the reflection seems to be telling them.

As we got caught up in the daily hummingbird drama (they fight a lot) and endless wonder (if you sit quietly, their curiosity will bring them within inches of your face!), we noticed other critters. Lady beetles, dragonflies, a fritillary butterfly, and even the bumble bee I had hoped for at the outset, all became regulars to our balcony. The bee came by every afternoon at about 3:00 to visit the cucumber. The balcony had become quite a hub.

The most we hoped for at the beginning of last summer was that our hummingbird would remember us and find her way back to our balcony. I did slightly more planning than the previous summer. I looked up what hummingbirds like and planted nasturtium, fuschia (Marcia and Jingle Bells), bee balm (powdery mildew resistant Jacob Kline), and zinnia elegans instead of the magellan I had impulsively bought for the cucumber. I thought the zinnia elegans, growing three to three and a half feet tall, would be a nice screen for the TV dish and be a showier beacon for the hummingbird.

The hummingbird came back! And so did the other critters.