May 1, 2015 01:02 PM
Photo by Robin May

“Good Morning FB Friends. Check out these mini-daffodils that are visiting in our gardens! They are so cute and tiny! Have a wonderful day.”

How delightful to be greeted every morning by a photo of sunny daffodils or a delicate spray of native azalea blossoms. How cheering to have someone wish you a wonderful day, every day. How generous with gardens, with their time, their grace and good wishes are Allen Bacqué and Winnie Darphin-Bacqué.

Tucked away in Holden Heights, an old neighborhood in Lafayette, Allen and Winnie have been gardening together for 23 years. Allen is the architect, Winnie a former flight attendant. They met in 1990, dated for nine years and got married one night, in 2001, as spontaneously as the lycoris (common name: surprise lilies) they collect.

What started with the planting of a Eucalyptus tree has become a rich bouquet of flower and leaf, both in their garden and in their lives. “When I moved here 23 years ago, there were no birds,” says Winnie. “I started building wetlands edges for birds and butterflies.”

“I dug up these wild azaleas,” says Allen, pointing out a gardner’s gem of a plant.

“It’s his way of saying ‘Winnie, I love you,’” she adds.

The beds are filled with flowers that bloom through the seasons: early spring’s snowbells, sun-loving lantana, giant coneflower and shy toadlilies. The Bacqués are tuned to the language of nature which becomes visible in the unfurling of a fern frond, the explosion of amaryllis or the crooked flight of a monarch butterfly.

Last summer, Allen and Winnie’s Facebook friends were treated to the daily delight of monarch and swallowtail butterflies life cycles happening before our eyes.

It was as much a surprise to the Bacqués as it was to all of us followers at first.

The swallowtails flocked to a huge dill plant near the Bacqués’ screen porch. “We had a few butterflies before,” says Allen, “but I guess it was the gigantic dill.” Host plants for swallowtails are members of the carrot family such as dill, fennel and parsley.

“We watched the butterflies lay eggs,” says Winnie. “Mama would tuck in her tail and lay eggs the size of a grain of salt.” In a week, the eggs hatched into small caterpillars. Then one made a chrysalis.

Tenderhearted Winnie saw the caterpillars crawling across the broiling hot stone walkway, searching for a place to bind their silk to a branch or brick and build a chrysalis.

“We brought them into the screen porch.

I found a screen cover for picnics, [to contain the caterpillars] and we fed them,” she says. “They are eating machines.”

Monarchs live exclusively on milkweed, a plant Winnie inherited from her Aunt Virginia. Rare in gardens, and under threat from herbicides in the Midwest, without the milkweed plant, Monarchs will become extinct.

The Monarch caterpillars lived in plastic tubs on the Bacqués’ porch. Allen built a “Monarch motel” out of pecan branches tied together, where the caterpillars spun themselves into silk cocoons and the Bacqués waited, watched, shot photos, filmed.

The resulting pictures, Allen’s exquisite close-ups of swallowtail and Monarch butterflies emerging from their chrysalis’, fanning their wings to dry, and flitting off into the blooming garden to drink nectar are, well … worth a thousand words. Friend Allen Bacqué on Facebook and take a gander.

Submitted photo

BUTTERFLY YOUR GARDEN

Every species of butterfly has its preferred host plant. While butterflies are attracted to many types of flowers to drink nectar, their caterpillars need specific plants to survive. All are highly susceptible to pesticides. If you want butterflies and birds in your garden, it’s important not to spray chemicals and to plant what they eat. Birds, by the way, will come to eat the caterpillars.

For a list of native plants that will host caterpillars of butterflies, go to the website of Dr. Charles Allen at www.nativeventures.net. Allen is a noted botanist and offers outdoor labs at his home at Allen Acres near Pitkin to learn about native plants, bugs, butterflies and birds. Another local source for bird and butterfly lore is Wild Birds Unlimited (www.lafayette.wbu.com) on Arnould Boulevard. You might catch Winnie Bacqué behind the counter there.

Click the image below to view a gallery of the Bacques' butterfly nursery.

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