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Author Walliser says healthy gardens need many plants and insects to thrive

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
'Ladybugs are among the most readily recognized beneficial insects, but not all of them are red with black polka-dots. This checkerspot ladybug is one of over 480 ladybug species found in North America.'

Jessica Walliser thinks bugs might be some of the best gardeners out there.

“People need to become aware of this awesome activity that is happening outside their doors every day,” she says about the role the insects play in the health of gardens — and in controlling each other.

Organic gardener Walliser, whose column appears twice weekly in the Trib, explores those ideas in her new book, “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden” (Timber Press, 240 pages, $24.95).

The book is about encouraging and attracting insects to help the garden and to mitigate the bad bugs. But it also is about the role they play in creating the delicate balance that exists in the garden.

“Plants and insects are completely interwoven,” says Walliser, who has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Penn State University and is on the faculty at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland.

In the introduction of the book, Walliser admits that she has come to be more fascinated with bugs than plants; a “confession” that will puzzle many of her professional colleagues.

But she says she now is focused on “how a beautiful garden lives in harmony with billions of insects,” she writes.

The biggest part of the book is a guide to beneficial bugs and a look at their roles in plant growth and predatory control. She says most gardeners feel that bugs are their enemies, but 95 percent of them do good jobs for plants.

Walliser also wrote “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” which she calls more of a “field guide” to insects, while this book examines their beneficial work.

The final third of the book might be the most important, as it deals with establishing “beneficial borders,” areas of the garden where plants encourage bugs and wildlife to foster growth.

She talks about plants to use and good ways to arrange them. For that reason, she says, the book is aimed at the “intermediate gardener,” one who is fairly knowledgeable but still has that common hatred of bugs.

“A lot of gardeners don't know about that form of gardening,” she says.

Creating such insectary borders, she says, has an overall positive gain of establishing areas that help the job of insects — and the garden.

While large border areas would be wonderful, she says, many small ones have the same effect. “If you only have a 5-by-5 or a 10-by-10 space, do it,” she says.

Walliser feels so strongly about the benefit of insectary borders, she proposed her book to the publisher with the title, “Beneficial Borders.”

“But they thought that sounded too much like the borders between countries,” she says, and that began an exhausting effort to develop a workable title.

The book is filled with about 245 photographs, all but about two dozen being Walliser's, she says. The result is a book that is full of information but is not heavy to look at.

“I am completely thrilled with the way it turned out,” she says. “The book has a lot of information in it, but if you don't present it in a way that makes it easy to get to, it doesn't matter.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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