by Dottie Head, Director of Membership & Communications
An explosion of color greets visitors arriving at the Roswell home of Mim Eisenberg, and that is just the way she planned it. Even on a chilly, late November morning there are still a smattering of flowering plants adding a splash of color to the autumn landscape. There is also a steady stream of colorful visitors to the bird feeders: the usual collection of titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and wrens and then, much to our delight, a Red-breasted Nuthatch not five feet from where we were standing. Surprise! The purpose of our visit was to certify Mim’s yard as an Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary. Georgia LaMar and Sheryl Berg were the volunteer certifiers, and I was just tagging along to take some photographs.
Nestled on a one-third acre, corner lot in east Roswell, the main garden lies in the side yard, where everyone who walks or drives by can see it. It quickly becomes apparent on the sunny, cool morning we visited that we weren’t the only one enjoying her garden; many of the neighbors, dog walkers, and other passersby were also taking advantage of the visual feast that is Mim’s garden.
Originally from New York City, Mim moved to Atlanta in 1994 because she was tired of apartment living and wanted a house she could afford. Atlanta’s four seasons and short, mild winters were also selling points on her decision to relocate south. “I bought my ranch-style house in 1995 because it’s on a corner, with lovely light coming through the clerestory windows, and I envisioned creating a perennial garden on the land,” says Mim.
A professional editor and oral history interview transcriptionist, Mim is the owner of WordCraft, Inc., receiving copy and interview files from all over the U.S. for transcribing, editing, and proofreading. Fast forward 24 years, and Mim still does contract work, but she also volunteers her time to proofread for Atlanta Audubon, the Georgia Ornithological Society, and other conservation and nonprofit groups, a service that is deeply appreciated. If you’re reading this or any other Atlanta Audubon article or publications, chances are good that Mim has already taken her editor’s pen to it. She’s tough, but she keeps us honest, and it’s good to know that our articles and copy are error free.
On certification day, Mim and her two adorable, energetic dogs, Molly, a tiny, 4-year-old Papillon, and Jazz, a tri-color, almost 2-year-old Pomeranian, show us around the yard. Georgia LaMar, a long-time volunteer certifier, has some questions. “How would you describe your style?” she asks.
“I have a cottage garden filled with a riot of colorful perennials that attract birds and insects and that bloom from early spring to early winter,” says Mim. “Inherently rather lazy, I wanted to create a mostly perennial garden that would attract birds and wildlife while requiring little more than water and occasional fertilizing to be healthy, and so the journey began. And little by little, one by one, I added plants that would flower during three seasons, just as those in my mom's garden in Connecticut used to,” Mim told us.
Mim waited years to certify her yard over concerns it lacked the required 50% native plants, but Georgia and Sheryl assure her that the large overstory oak trees, including red oak, hickory, and sweetgum, are more than adequate compensation for the smattering of non-native plants that provide color and visual interest to the landscape. Mim discusses her plans to add more native plants to her garden in the coming years, but also shares that it can be challenging to find plants that are free of neonicotinoids. This class of insecticides is used to treat many plants that are available at big-box retailers and nurseries. The “neonics,” as they are called, are designed to discourage insects from consuming the plants, but they are water soluble and spread easily in the landscape. Studies have shown that neonics can have disastrous consequences for bees, birds, and other pollinators. Instead, Mim looks for her plants at native plant sales, such as the ones hosted by the Chattahoochee Nature Center or the Georgia Native Plant Society. She also recommends Santa Rosa Gardens in Florida as a great source for neonic-free plants.
As she guides us around, the incessant noise of bulldozers and heavy equipment drones in the background. Much to Mim’s dismay, a 58.4-acre swath of forest behind her home was leveled in October 2016, and a subdivision is slowly going up in its place. This type of rampant clear-cutting for new subdivisions has become all too common in the metro area, and Mim is just sick at the number of trees that have been cut down and the habitat that has been destroyed. “I cherish my garden and am thrilled that there is so much wildlife in it, fulfilling one of my purposes in creating it. Even though it’s just one-third of an acre, I would like to think that some of the creatures displaced by the clear-cutting have found a home in my garden.”
After a tour of the side yard, Molly, Jazz, and Mim lead us into her small, fenced back yard, featuring more native trees, shrubs, raised flower beds, bird houses, a small patio fountain, and bird bath.
“What are your favorite plants?” Georgia asks. “I love all of my plants,” says Mim, “but the two that have over the years paid for themselves many times over are the Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ and my [native] New England aster because they are virtually care free and attract a myriad of butterflies and other pollinators.” Another insect magnet is Veronica spicata ‘sunny border blue’, she says. [Readers, please note that lantana and veronica are not native plants to Georgia.]
In addition to her gardening, Mim is an accomplished photographer and takes photos of the birds that visit the feeders just outside her kitchen window. Over the years, Mim has shared on social media sites photos of the birds and animals that visit her garden. She still posts regularly to www.flickr.com/photos/mimbrava/.
After a tour of the yard, we head inside so that Georgia and Sheryl can compile their notes. Jazz and Molly show off a few of their tricks, including the remarkable ability to recognize and retrieve by name (e.g., green donut, yellow ring, etc.) various toys from the pile near their crates. After a bit of Q&A about outdoor cats (a big no-no) and fertilizer/chemical use (natural/organic only, please), Georgia and Sheryl congratulate Mim and present her with an official Atlanta Audubon Sanctuary sign, adding her to the network of more than 450 Atlanta Audubon certified properties in the Atlanta.
That afternoon, a neighbor friend helped mount the sanctuary sign in her garden, and the very next day an Eastern Bluebird landed on her sign, giving the bird-friendly seal of approval. She snapped its photo and gave us permission to use it on the sanctuary section of our website.