Louise Hallberg had a funny effect on people. "She's so sweet!" gushed all who met the tiny old dear in the sun hat and butterfly-bedecked skirt. Luring one and all to her fairytale gardens with their overstuffed beds of blossoms, Miss Hallberg skillfully guided unsuspecting humans into her pollen-laden trap. Once captured, they would do the unthinkable: Serve insects.
Miss Hallberg was the Butterfly Lady, a fragile title for this powerful naturalist. Disarming everyone with smiles and chuckles, she was constantly learning, questioning, and observing right along with her visitors. She pursued answers with tireless drive, like a Monarch devouring milkweed. Or, more aptly, a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar eating Aristolochia californica.
Often her vision for the gardens made one question her sanity, but she would bring her seemingly crazy plans to fruition. A weedy slope became a wildlife paradise, a sterile patch a dragonfly-laden pond, a dull path transformed by a creek. (Yeah, Miss Hallberg had a creek installed. Who DOES that?)
While concentrating her efforts on her property, Miss Hallberg's labors extended far beyond its borders. Her work expanded our knowledge of habitat fragmentation and restoration, pesticide damage, and climate change. Her continuous value as an educator is incalculable.
On January 8, 2017, Miss Hallberg celebrated her 100th birthday (record-setting rain totals befitting a weather-reporter such as herself). "Keep the gardens going," she implored the celebrants filling Graton's Community Club. It's the least we can do and doesn't even begin to repay her tremendous contributions.
Miss Hallberg has shuffled off this mortal coil, but her work continues. The gardens' visitors have spread her vision like Pipevine, popping up as a garden here, a school program there. Many think of Miss Hallberg whenever we find a caterpillar, see a quail, or write a representative. She will certainly be on everyone's mind at this year's Open Gardens Celebration on June 25.
Want your own butterfly garden? Find out what butterflies live in your locale and grow their larval host plants. Add flowering native plants. Halt pesticide use. Then hold onto your sun hat, things are gonna get wild.
On February 25, 2017, Sonoma County lost one of its treasures when Miss Louise Hallberg passed. Even though we will miss her presence here in Sonoma County, Hallberg Butterfly Gardens remains vibrantly alive.