Tour to highlight yards designed for people and wildlife

Thaea Lloyd and Robert Harville garden on a half-acre lot in Sandy Springs. The front yard’s sloping lawn and flower beds bordering the street would be attractive in any suburban neighborhood. But the flowers in the bed were particularly chosen for their seeds and nectar to attract birds and butterflies. The "Callaway" crab apple that hangs over the privacy fence shelters a front-yard patio while also providing shelter and food for the local wildlife population.

Step around to the side garden and then the backyard and you walk through more "outdoor rooms." The plants are mostly natives, well suited to meet the needs of the neighborhood's birds and small mammals. Seating areas outside are reflected in the large windows that provide vistas from seating areas inside.

“Our windows are uncurtained and unobstructed so we can see every little creature that flies or scampers by,” Lloyd said.

The Lloyd/Harville garden is a certified wildlife sanctuary, a designation they have received from the Atlanta Audubon Society. Their garden will be on tour this weekend as part of the society’s ninth annual Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Tour.

In their 30 years on the property, Lloyd and Harville have renovated the garden around the 1950s ranch house one small space at a time.

“We removed the contractor plants: the ligustrums, Chinese holly and nandina that were typically planted when these houses were built,” Lloyd said.

Careful observation showed her that while these plants might have berries and appear to be good food sources, the wildlife in her yard routinely ignored their fruit, eating it only as a last resort.

“Our wildlife does not like Chinese food, and they don’t like Japanese food,” Lloyd said with a laugh. “It took me a while to realize they really prefer our native American cuisine.”

Water is another necessity for all living things, and Lloyd has placed five birdbaths around the yard and one small running fountain. Feeders augment the native seeds and fruit, and plantings are designed to range from low to medium shrubs and understory to large canopy trees, all carefully considered to provide a range of places to rest, nest and hide.

Birdhouses hang at different heights to suit different birds, and they are oriented south to provide warmth in the winter. Woodpecker boxes and owl boxes hang in the trees, and there’s even a raccoon box.

Dead branches or even a dead tree will not be removed if it’s not threatening anything because the birds gather insects in such places, and some find shelter there.

“We try to recycle everything on our property rather than send it to the landfill,” Lloyd said.

A 5-foot-tall wattle-type fence made of rebar stakes woven with tree branches provides a rustic backdrop for a little garden house on the property and helps provide privacy from the backyard neighbors. Shorter walls of interlaid branches have little voids for wildlife to scurry into and areas to climb.

“They like that,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd has just constructed a dust bath for the birds after recognizing it as a very important component of their personal hygiene.

“Water baths don’t get rid of the mites and little insects they get. They really need that dust to clean their feathers,” she said.

This summer’s heat meant Lloyd spent more time observing from indoors, and she was able to identify a spot the birds were using for their dust baths. Now she has improved the area.

Lloyd has kept a record of the bird species she has seen on her property and says it’s up to about 60. She has seen chipmunks, foxes, opossums, raccoons, squirrels and even coyotes.

A landscape architect, Lloyd does residential consultation and understands that some homeowners want to discourage wildlife.

“They think the animals will make a mess, but that doesn’t have to be the case at all,” she said. “We encourage wildlife here, and the only time we have a problem is when a developer comes in and clear-cuts, forcing all the animals to find new shelter.”

She feels that she has achieved a comfortable balance on her property.

“We always remember that we’re on the animal’s territory, a guest in their home, and they have every right to be here,” she said.

Atlanta Audubon Society requirements for certified wildlife sanctuaries

Shelter: Active nesting areas or shelters that attract and protect birds and other wildlife.

Food: Feeders and plantings that offer seeds, flowers and berries to wildlife.

Water: Birdbaths, water gardens or natural features with flowing water.

Nesting sites: Bird boxes, natural cavities or wood piles, and vine tangles.

Many backyards habitats and gardens meet wildlife sanctuary requirements. For more information:

Event preview

Atlanta Audubon Society ninth annual Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Tour

Saturday, Sept. 11, 9- a.m. to 3 p.m.

Book signings with Charles Seabrook and John Yow at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve.

On tour: four private gardens and one nature preserve in Buckhead and Sandy Springs.

Tickets: advance tickets $12, available by calling 678-973-2437. Day-of-tour tickets $15, available at 570 Valley Lane and Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3003 Howell Mill Road. Children under 12 admitted free with adults. Free tour admission for those who join the society on the tour date.

For more information: