Forget poinsettias, if you don't mind, and turn your thoughts to hummingbirds, which surely are far more festive and delicate and marvelous. I do not mind poinsettias, though mine have a dismal way of lasting until March, so that one gets rather weary of them.

Hummingbirds are one of the glories of eastern America, and although we have only one kind, the ruby-throated, that one is abundant and should suffice.

Gardeners love hummingbirds -- I cannot think of ever hearing anybody complain of "those damned hummingbirds," though gardeners complain of everything else. On hot June days it is a delight to everybody to behold the hummingbirds hovering about, and there is no reason every garden should not be attractive to them.

A friend of mine recently sawed down a huge old mimosa tree. Before he did so, I had often admired the hummingbirds. It was no rare thing to see as many as 30 hummingbirds at a time working the nectar-laden flowers. The mimosa (Albizzia) is scented, though most flowers loved by the hummers have no fragrance. Thomas Jefferson, you will recall, planted 32 seeds of this tree on his birthday in 1809, and while that is the only reference to it I can find at the moment, I think this was one of his favorite trees at Monticello.

Hummingbirds, if not Jefferson, consider it a veritable prince of the vegetable kingdom, and sometimes visit it in a regular cloud of tiny wings so that the entire flowering canopy seems to be vibrating. A mistake to cut down a mimosa, needless to say, but there you are.

Another great favorite of these little fowl is the trumpet vine (Campsis) in several varieties. I was uneasy that they might not like the yellow trumpet vine, as red is their favorite color, but was happy to see they worked the yellow flowers as well as the others.

We were proud last year when hummingbirds built a nest in a wild trumpet vine on our fence. The nest, which I have not found despite diligent searching, is so cleverly disguised it resembles a mere swelling on a stem or twig. I did not want to go poking about until cold weather, and although I knew just where the nest was, within a margin of five feet or so, and though I know how cleverly the birds patch it about with lichens, I have not been able to find it.

I have read there are usually two white bean-sized eggs laid, but we saw three infants feeding, we thought, unless one of them was a small adult, after all.

The usual way of feeding these birds is with sugar water. People used to use honey and water, but this was said to cause a fungus bad for the birds. Nowadays you use a solution of sugar and water (put 4 ounces of sugar in a pint jar and fill with water -- do not use more sugar, as too rich a solution is bad for the birds' livers, I have been told).

It is, of course, a nuisance to feed the birds this artificial mixture, which should be changed every day in hot weather lest it ferment. It should be dispensed in one of those glass tubes (usually with something red, like an artificial flower, to attract them) and the feeder should be kept free of ants and bees. This is sometimes hard to manage, but if the feeder is suspended from a wire coated with vegetable oil, the ants are supposed to be discouraged. There are endless numbers of hummingbird feeders on the market, but I believe the main thing is to put them where it is easy to take them down and wash them out with hot water at least every other day.

A garden well stocked with flowers that hummingbirds like is the best way to attract them, but I remember seeing a hummingbird working a yellow lady's slipper in April one year -- you may notice the birds showing up about the time the azaleas bloom, from mid-April on. I never see them that early but other people do.

A plant famous for its popularity with the birds is bee balm, Monarda, and you might as well grow a red one, such as 'Cambridge Scarlet.' Cannas are not always considered outstanding hummingbird flowers, but in my garden they like the wild cannas we grow.

Red zinnias do very well, especially the ones that have few petals and big yellow centers, and verbenas. Columbines are better than either of these and I used to grow them with heucheras or coral bells, also visited by the birds. The heucheras kept up till July so there were flowers for more than three months.

Many campanulas are said to be great favorites, though I have never seen hummingbirds in them, myself, and other flowers the birds like are clematis, delphiniums, pinks and sweet williams, daylilies, petunias, lobelias, trout lilies (they never visit mine or if they do I never see them), sweet peas, catmints, four o'clocks, poppies, honeysuckles, sages, geraniums (the subtropical ones planted out for the summer) and viburnums.

Trumpet vines, bee balms and cannas have been the most popular at my place, and another front-runner is the scarlet honeysuckle native to our woodlands.