'Garden Allies': Everything in Your Garden Has a Place

Don't ask if the insects you find in your garden are "good bugs or bad bugs."

Everything in your garden has a place, and your place should be a healthy, thriving garden--free of pesticides, says Frédérique Lavoipierre.

Lavoipierre, author of the newly published book, Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving, writes in the introduction: "Of course, we know the pollinators are our allies, but what about all those other insects? I have a few tips, but first, I generally don't think of bugs as good or bad. Indeed, I have learned to think of them in their ecological roles, as prey and predators, pollinators, decomposers and so on."

Everything in nature is connected, she recently told Pacific Coast Entomological Society (PCES) in a Zoom meeting. She quoted John Muir: "When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world."

Basically, if you rid your garden of insects, what will the birds eat? If you rid your garden of aphids, no lady beetles or soldier beetles for you! If you rid your garden of caterpillars, no more butterflies fluttering around for you to admire and photograph. Everything in nature is connected.

Lavoipierre's engaging and educational book, published by Timber Press and illustrated with intricate pen-and-ink drawings by Craig Latker, should be required reading for those interested in planting a pollinator garden or those who want to learn more about the critters--"above, under, around and within"--that visit or live there. 

No stranger to the scientific world or the world of insects, Frédérique grew up in Davis. Her father, Michel Lavoipierre (1920-1984), served as a professor/researcher at UC Davis, specializing in parasitology, epidemiology, arthropod vectors and entomology. "He donated important collections to the Bohart Museum of Entomology," Frédérique recently told Bug Squad.

"So I grew up with a dad who loved all things entomological," Frédérique said. Her father's last graduate student was Bob Kimsey, now a longtime forensic entomologist on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty.

Frédérique went on to study at Sonoma State University; obtain her master's degree in biology, with an emphasis on ecological principles of sustainable landscapes; become the founding director of the Sonoma State University Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate Program; and serve as the director of education at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Today she is a consultant and serves on the editorial advisory group for the American Public Gardens Association

And today, as the author of Garden Allies and a staunch supporter of healthy, thriving gardens--"gardens matter"--she's eager to spread the word about her love of gardens; why you should love them, too; and why you should appreciate the organisms that live "above, under, around and within." She recently set up a Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/Garden.Allies to interact with her readers and garden enthusiasts. 

"I wrote Garden Allies as a series for Pacific Horticulture Magazine for ten years," Lavoipierre' recalled.  "It's been a terrific COVID project!"

Her husband titled the book.  In her introduction, she writes: "Long ago when I first began writing about natural enemies of herbivorous insects, my husband said to me, 'Why don't you call them garden allies instead?'"

"My book is written for readers throughout North America, north of Mexico and is based on conservation biological control," she told PCES.

"I'm a big fan of native plants," Lavoipierre acknowledged. "They support the habitat more. I'm not a purist; I'm a gardener...If you like to grow hydrangeas in in your garden that remind you of your grandmother, you should."

In her talk, she showed images of bees, beetles, butterflies, bats, syrphid flies, dragonflies, lacewings, spiders, praying mantids, birds, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, and more. "Everything is food for something else."

"And it all starts with the soil. It all begins there, with the soil...You'll have a rich environment if you have healthy soil." In discussing earthworms aerating the soil and what a rototiller can do to disrupt life, she added: "I'm an advocate of no tilling."

Lavoipierre said she visits public gardens at every opportunity. "I look at the flowers, what's visiting them, what's eating what..." 

Her tips include: remove your lawn and plant a pollinator garden; plant natives as much as possible; don't use pesticides; install a bat box; join INaturalist; become a citizen scientist and participate in groups such as Bumble Bee Watch; and turn off the lights at night ("it's bad for a lot of insects--check out darksky.org").  

And just enjoy your garden, she told PCES. "You don't have to know what everything is to live with it."

Her takeaway message, given to Bug Squad: "Gardens, large and small, make a difference. Reducing (or even eliminating!) pesticides protects us all--the bees and other pollinators, but also other essential organisms such as predators, parasitoids, and pathogens that attack herbivorous insects and keep them in check; and decomposers and soil organisms that keep our gardens thriving. And yes, herbivorous insects are essential--important food for birds and many other animals. Healthy garden food webs keep our watersheds and larger environment safe from pollution."