By Anne Butler
|"Monarch, Chrysalis and Caterpiller on Ageratum" painting by Murrell Butler|
And insects! In this veritable Garden of Eden there were and are plentiful pollinators so necessary for healthy plant growth, the honey bees and the beautiful butterflies. Experts who harvest and collect bugs, both living and dead, for the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans, a never-ending task, love to work in the St. Francisville area. “Ah, heaven on earth! What a delightful place,” says Linda Barber Auld, otherwise known as “The Bug Lady” and owner/operator of Barber Laboratories in Jefferson, a company begun by her father in 1921 to control invasive and destructive pests like termites but expanded by Linda to place new emphasis on raising the populations of beneficial insects as well.
|Monarch photo by ptWalsh|
These beautiful black and orange butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexican overwintering sites, and as they pass in great clouds though parts of the United States on their 3,000-mile journey, thousands stop over. They drink nectar from many different varieties of flowers before laying their eggs, but their caterpillars can survive only on one plant, milkweed.
Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering placing the Monarch on the Endangered Species “threatened” list because populations have declined by a shocking 95 percent since 1996, from 1 billion to 33 million. The drastic drop is blamed primarily on the increasing use of herbicides sprayed on crops genetically modified to withstand them, killing millions of acres of other plants including milkweed that serve as habitat for beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies.
|Zebra Longwing photo by ptWalsh|
This year Auld’s goals include the installation of five native milkweed species in the gardens, increasing involvement with volunteer gardeners who belong to established societies and horticultural organizations, and having milkweed gardens planted at all of Louisiana’s Welcome Centers and Visitor Centers, including the one on US Highway 61 which greets St. Francisville’s visitors arriving from the north every day except major holidays from 8:30 to 5. Rosie Politz of that welcome center is excited about the idea, especially with gardening enthusiasts already on staff, and can’t wait to plant the seeds provided by Linda Auld as soon as weather conditions permit. Additional information on butterfly gardening is available from Linda’s Barber Laboratories, and she can provide not just advice but also supplies, seeds in colorful containers with planting instructions, and plants for garden clubs, schools, public and private garden spaces (online contact: firstname.lastname@example.org).
|photo by ptWalsh|
Visitors can observe at a safe distance an entirely different type of gardening…acres and acres of food crops as well as flower beds lining white fences…on the third weekend in April, when the gates of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola swing open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, for the Spring Rodeo and Arts & Crafts Festival. Arena events pit inmates against professional rodeo stock, the only exception being the ladies’ barrel racing, and crowd favorites are the events unique to Angola like the Guts & Glory with offenders on foot trying to snatch a $100 ticket from between the horns of the meanest brahma bull around. Inmate hobbycraft items include jewelry, leathercraft, paintings, woodworking and toys, and there’s live music by inmate bands, a museum with compelling exhibits covering the long and bloody history of the prison, and plenty of food ranging from ribs and burgers to jambalaya, pizza, nachos and “tornado potatoes,” ice cream and candy apples. For information: 225-655-2030 or 225-655-2607 weekdays 8:30 to 4; online www.angolarodeo.com. Advance tickets are a must, and visitors should remember that this is a maximum-security prison with regulations that must be followed to the letter.
|photo by Henry Cancienne|
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).