Fairies and Freak-outs


Bugs. I’m not generally a fan – I don’t want them in my house, my hair or my stuff – and it’s taken a lot of maturity, mini-freakouts and online gardening (read: counseling) groups to come to the acceptance that sometimes we want them around us and our garden. And sometimes we don’t.

I admit, however, that my bug identification skills are woefully inadequate. It just so happens that a few really beautiful bugs are totally garden monsters (I’m talking about you, you rotten little leaf-hopper that spread ‘the yellows’ to all my milkweed plants) and sometimes ugly bugs should be our best friends (pirate bugs – bleeech – plus they bite and I don’t typically consider anything that would bite me my friend). But anyway…

aphid closeup

A fairy-ish aphid with a wispy cotton-ball tail.

Every year I discover some new creature hanging around my flowers, but I generally take the peaceful approach if they aren’t familiar, leaving them be unless I can actually see a piece of my plant in their mouth. I’ve even started letting spiders live despite the fact that they absolutely terrify me. And the truth is that some bugs are really interesting and kind of fun to watch do their thing. And some bugs fill me with wonder – like, how could the universe have created something so intricate and strange?

Case in point: A while back, I was outside planting some new perennials into an area of my garden, and I saw this beautiful little creature come floating by. It was like a little tiny speck of cotton hovering and floating through the air and I thought, "What the heck is that?!"

So I started following it around trying to get a closer look, and I saw that it was a gorgeous little thing with bluish shimmering wings and a frondy, feathery looking body and delicate little legs, and it didn’t really fly so much as FLOAT and I thought, “Holy cow, that looks like a FAIRY. That’s so special - my yard must be blessed. But really, what could it possibly be?”

Then I saw another one and then another, so I spent 15 minutes following them around trying to get photos of my little magic creatures. I had NO IDEA what they were, but I figured Auntie Google might, so I typed into my browser, “small white feather bugs” and Google knew EXACTLY what I was talking about and even finished the sentence for me. I was so excited I almost couldn’t breathe.

I clicked on the first link in the search results, expecting some wonderful, whimsical bug to come up, but instead what I got was “Asian woolly hackberry aphid,” and I thought, “Well, I don’t even have any hackberries so maybe it’s okay.” But then I read they cause a powdery mold on your plants, and I noticed the powdery looking leaves on my lilac and I was like, “Oh heck no, you evil little fae - Mother Nature, hold my beer.” Then I turned my hose on jet spray and hunted down and killed every one of them.

And then I posted this story in a gardening group on Facebook and some lady came back and said they are actually pretty harmless. Now I'm a murderer.

That was an emotional roller coaster I didn’t expect from a day in the garden. And now I’ve never seen them since – I’m figuring if any escaped, they told their friends to stay away from the crazy lady with the garden hose. Oh well. Live and learn.


Cynthya Porter is the editor of Northern Gardener magazine. A professional writer, photographer and editor for 20+ years, she's freelanced for USA Today, Huff Post, AAA Living, Minnesota Monthly, Midwest Living and more.

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  1. Sonia Aswegan on October 8, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Great writing, Cynthya! I love your visual descriptions of the offensive, non-offensive, occasionally beautiful and sometimes scary tiny creatures! I’m hoping the beneficial bugs manage to escape your murderous garden hose, and that you’ll someday be able to see some real fairies in your garden. Thanks for the entertaining and educational article.

  2. Bonnie Boese on October 8, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for a good chuckle in the midst of our struggle!

  3. Michele Tuchner on October 9, 2022 at 1:34 am

    LOVED your reporting of the encounter, gave me a good laugh, keep it up we can all use a smile.

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