By Jan Landau Lewin

Esther Stokes (left), landscape architect and consultant to Trinity Presbyterian Church, and Linda Bath, member of the sustainability committee for the church, examine a bluebird nesting box that sits along the perimeter of the church’s certified wildlife sanctuary, which will be on the Audubon Tour in September.

Take a walk through some of the grounds listed on the Atlanta Audubon Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Tour and you will forget you are in suburban Sandy Springs or Buckhead. Instead, you are entering a dense, lush environment that is built with the added mission to nurture and sustain wildlife.

“A certified wildlife sanctuary might have dead trees for a nesting site or brush piles for shelter, something you would not see on other garden tours,” said Katherine Kuchar, executive director of the Atlanta Audubon Society. “In fact, many invasive and exotic plants that are not indigenous do not appeal to birds, and some plants like poison ivy, which is not desirable in most gardens, are great for birds.”

The Audubon Society is trying to raise awareness of its Wildlife Sanctuary Certification program, which encourages homeowners to develop and maintain food and shelter for wildlife to counter commercial and residential development that is eliminating habitat.

Backyard sanctuary tour
The Sanctuary Tour, which features four residential gardens in Buckhead and Sandy Springs as well as the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, is set for Sept. 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Georgia authors Charles Seabrook (10 a.m. to noon) and John Yow (1 to 3 p.m.) will speak and sign books at the Atlanta Audubon Society offices at Blue Heron Nature Preserve.
The Georgia Native Plant Society will be selling plants, and there will be children’s activities at noon. Tickets may be purchased for $12 in advance by credit card by calling AAS at 678-973-2437 or the day of the event ($15) at tour sites #1 (570 Valley Lane) or #5 (3003 Howell Mill Road). For more information call 678-973-2437 or visit

Lisa Frank, owner of one of the Buckhead gardens on the tour, has worked with her friend Terry May for 30 years on her garden. Frank’s garden is unique because of the number of rare and exotic plants on her property.

Buckhead resident Lisa Frank points out a plant species in her certified wildlife sanctuary habitat, one of the stops on the Audubon wildlife sanctuary tour.

“I’ve thought about moving, but I’m not sure I could ever leave the garden,” Frank said. “I am so fortunate to have this property be part of a little vein of forest near the Blue Heron Preserve.” She has seen red foxes and deer on her property and estimates that about 20 species of birds visit at different times of the year.

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Buckhead is another stop on the sanctuary tour. With 25 acres of high-canopied trees, a stream, a pond and dense undergrowth with native plants, it was easy for the church to receive certification in February 2010.

Linda Bath, a member of the Trinity Church sustainability committee, credits Trinity congregations since the 1960s for sustaining the natural habitat of the church grounds. This year, the church completed Phase I of a walking path through about five acres of woods in the wildlife sanctuary.

To be certified as a wildlife sanctuary, a habitat must provide four elements: food sources, nesting sites, bird feeders and water sources. The food sources must provide year-round food, including seeds, berries or nectar through various trees, shrubs and flowers. There should also be a variety of bird feeders offering different seeds and in different forms, such as a platform feeder and a nectar feeder for hummingbirds. There must also be adequate nesting sites and shelter, and water must be available all year.

The Atlanta Audubon Society expects about 300 to 400 participants in this year’s tour, which is being held in Buckhead and Sandy Springs for the first time in about seven years.