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Native Plant Habitat Tour Offers Insights for Backyard Habitat Restoration

Bill and Carol Pardue's yard, one of the six properties at the first GNPS Intown Atlanta Native Plant Habitat Tour. is proof that a small yard can offer big habitat value for wildlife. Brown-headed nuthatches, one of the multitude of birds in decline that Georgia Audubon is trying to help by encouraging homeowners to put up backyard nesting boxes for, are nesting in the knothole of an old oak in the Pardue's yard.

The easiest way homeowners can help brown-headed nuthatches is to leave mature pine trees or tree snags in the yard for them to nest in and forage for insects. To protect them for the future, plant a tree now.

On the the day of the tour a hummingbirds was darting from the blooming native red buckeye (aescululs pavia) to the flowers of the native coral honeysuckle vine (lonicera sempervirens).

There IS a hummingbird in this photo...but it was quickly snapped with a phone camera so the tiny blur on the flower all the way to the left can't really be seen!

When Bill moved to the quarter acre property 15 years ago, he was intentional about restoring habitat. He had helped spearhead restoration projects in an Atlanta nature preserve park he had previously lived nearby. His process of reclaiming nature in his own yard offers some insight for anyone who wants to know how to transform a traditionally landscaped yard into a wildlife sanctuary.

Bill's yard is an example of a wildlife habitat naturescaped with native plants. (photo from Tom Collins)

Removing the exotic invasive species anchoring the landscape was the first task done before the long process of installing hardscapes, including walking paths, low rock walls, and a stand-out 500-gallon, 4 level water feature visited by wildlife year-round. Finally, he replanted the yard with species native to the Georgia Piedmont he saw when walking in North Georgia’s beautiful parks and hiking trails.

This hand built water feature is a wildlife magnet year round.

Even the right-of-way strip was included in the restoration project. Non-native crepe myrtles that contribute little to ecosystem where they grow were removed and replaced with two cherry bark red oaks (Quercus pagoda) they were inspired to add when Trees Atlanta planted them in a nearby public space. When Bill moved in there were four water oaks, and one white oak on the property. Oaks are an important keystone species, meaning they are crucial to the survival of other species because they support more wildlife than any tree in North America, including more than 450 species of moths and butterflies!

This late winter photo shows the bones of the Pardue yard, including one of the cherry bark oaks on planted on the right of way and another in the front yard.

A striking and somewhat artistic standing dead tree section called a snag is a focal point of the front yard is a fantastic example of ways to incorporate naturally beautiful elements that offer value for wildlife into the landscape. Birds use snags for shelter, foraging, nesting and perching.

This glorious snag showcases ways to embrace, not erase nature in the landscape.

Intentionality was evident in every part of the yard. It was hard not to be charmed by the whimsical yard art throughout the landscape showing the care put into making the landscape friendly for people. A GNPS sign showing the property is a Gold Level Native Plant Habitat, and certification signs from both the Audubon Society, and the National Wildlife Federation offer aspirational goals for visitors. Having yard certification helps educate and inspire neighbors and people walking by about how to coexist with natures and sets a positive example to help normalize a habitat landscape.

A gold level certification from the Georgia Native Plant Society is an accomplishment and means 2/3 of the property is planted with native plants, healthy landscape practices are in place and exotic invasive plants are not being intentionally grown.

The feeling of being in a little woodland cottage yard, not in a residential neighborhood was enhanced by the blooming foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia), blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), woodland iris (iris cristata), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and fothergilla. These plants also provide valuable habitat for wildlife and including early spring pollinators.

Native woodland iris (iris cristata) looks almost the same but is a more wildlife friendly alternative to non-native netted iris (iris reticulata)

Yard tours are a great way to raise awareness about the many benefits of incorporating native plants in the landscape and give examples of how to do this. Bill's generous spirit to share his yard with hundreds of visitors on a gorgeous spring day will hopefully help others to create or expand on a place for nature in their own yards.

Bill Pardue is at home in more ways than one surrounded by a lovely tree life sculpture and a blooming native fothergilla.

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