Standing on her front porch last Wednesday morning, overlooking the Dutchman's pipevine that her mother Della planted in the 1920s, Louise Hallberg is a picture of enthusiasm, dedication and sincerity--or what her docents call her “indomitable spirit.”
Her butterfly sanctuary, a non-profit corporation since 1997, has drawn more than 30,000 visitors, including scores of wide-eyed children and their teachers and parents butterfly enthusiasts, gardeners, and nature lovers. “Over 1000 visitors came on our Open Gardens Day on June 28,” she says. Many visitors come from out of the county, the state, and the country, she said.
Her expression turns to concern. I"'m terribly concerned about the drought. We've very low on rainfall. It was 105 on Sunday. It's been so hot, so long.” She is deeply concerned about the decline of butterflies. “I've tracked the butterflies here since 1992,” she relates. “We're not getting the numbers we used to.”
Louise Hallberg, who will be 99 next January, was born on the family farm. Her grandparents, John and Louise Neta Pearson, initially purchased 40 acres and expanded it to 130 acres, growing hops, berries, cherries, prunes, pears and apples. The oldest of their three children, Alfred, later took over the farm, and he and Della--the one who planted that Dutchman's pipe---raised two daughters, Louise and Esther.
“I remember when my mother found the Dutchman's pipevine growing along a country road and brought it here and planted it,” Louise recalls. “Look at it now."
Louise studied at Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Berkeley, majoring in political science. Then she worked 35 years as Santa Rosa Junior College registrar, retiring in 1975.
But it was the pipevine swallowtails that continued to spark her interest and what led to the formation of the butterfly sanctuary. She monitors the populations of many species of butterflies, keeping careful records. The numbers keep dwindling but not her passion.
On our visit, we enjoyed the ponds, the vivarium, the “secret garden,” butterfly creek, pipevine theater, the woodpecker granary, the meadow garden, and the weather station that her family has monitored and maintained for more than three decades. .We glimpsed the Gravenstein apple orchard and ladders leaning up against the trees, a scene from yesteryear that never changes.
"We add new plants (funded by donations) every year," Hallberg says. The Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, in western Sonoma County, are open by appointment for docent-guided tours from April 1 to Oct. 31. Appointments are offered Wednesday through Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Contact the tour and volunteer coordinator (707) 591-6967 or email her at email@example.com to arrange a visit.) The non-profit corporation offers books, posters, t-shirts and other gifts. It annually hosts an Open Gardens Day in June that includes a plant sale. Louise Hallberg continues to publish her newsletter, aptly named "The Pipevine."
Meanwhile, during our visit, the red-spotted pipevine swallowtail caterpillars went about munching the leaves of the Dutchman's pipevine, while butterflies laid their eggs on their host plants: the monarchs on the milkweed and the anise swallowtails on fennel.
We thought back to the conversation on the front porch with this remarkable 98-year-old "Butterfly Lady of Sebastopol" and her love of the swallowtails, monarchs and dozens of other species of butterflies--and the worries she harbors, not for herself, but for the butterflies.
"It's been so hot, so long."
The seventh annual Bee Symposium, a fundraiser for Partners for Sustainable Pollination, will take place on Saturday, March 9 in Sebastopol.
That's when five speakers will talk about pollinator habitat--what's good to plant and why. The theme is "Pollinator Habitat and Forage."
The event takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, located in the Veterans' Building at 282 South High St., Sebastopol.
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of pollination and bee biology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be among the speakers at the all-day event.
Williams will discuss "Development of Wildflower Mixes to Promote Native Pollination in Agriculture."
A core faculty member in the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, Williams focuses his research on pollination that spans the disciplines of conservation biology, behavioral ecology and evolution. One of his primary research foci is on sustainable pollination strategies for agriculture. This work is critical given ongoing pressures facing managed honey bees and reported declines in important native pollinators such as bumble bees.
He and his colleagues explore the role of wild native bees, honey bees and other managed species as crop pollinators and the effects of landscape composition and local habitat quality on their persistence.
Williams' continuing goal is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long- term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management.
Other speakers at the symposium will include bee industry expert Peter Borst of Biomedical Sciences, Cornell University. He will deliver two talks: "A Short History of Pollination" and "Pollinator Panorama." Borst is a regular contributor to the American Bee Journal.
Professor Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley will discuss "Bees and Flowers: A Selective Love Affair.”
Master Gardener Cheryl Verettto will share “Plant 4 Bees: Help The Bees by Planting All 4 Seasons”
Farmer Paul Kaiser of the Singing Frogs Farm will cover “Farming for Pollinators: How Can We Humans Produce Nutrient Dense Food While Improving the health, Vitality and Resiliency of Mother Nature?”
Tickets are $35 pre-sale or $45 at the door. Members receive a $5 discount. For more information or to purchase tickets, access http:// www.pfspbees.org/store or cash tickets may be purchased at Beekind, 921 Gravenstein Highway South., Sebastopol.
For general information, contact Jeanine Robbins at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 824-2905.
It's "Orange October" for the San Francisco Giants, who just defeated the Detroit Tigers in the opening game of the World Series.
But over at the Luther Burbank's Gold Ridge Experiment Farm at 7781 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, it's Blue October.
It's delightful to see the honey bees foraging in the sky-blue borage (Borago officinalis), aka starflower and bee bread.
Burbank (1849-1926), a noted plant breeder, must have enjoyed the bees there, too. You can almost feel his presence as you walk along the paths, rimmed with more than 250 plant specimens.
His widow, Elizabeth Waters Burbank (1888-1977) donated 15 acres of their 18-acre farm to a senior housing development corporation and then gifted the remainder to the city of Sebastopol for historical preservation. Administered by the Western Sonoma County Historical Society, the farm is open to the public. There's no admission, but donations are accepted. You can also buy a few plants there.
As for borage, it's used as a salad herb and as a dessert garnish. It's also been used for medicinal purposes and for seed oil. Photographers love to capture the colors--the white, prickly hairs ghosting the spectacular blue blossoms.
When you visit the Gold Ridge Experiment Farm, though, you know the borage is for the bees. The nectar-rich blossoms are theirs and theirs alone.