by Melinda Langston, Wildlife Sanctuary Program Coordinator
A place of beauty and refuge, the home and garden of Jennie and Wayne Richardson stand out as an urban oasis on Atlanta’s eastern edge, where thousands of commuters are ushered in and out of the city on Ponce de Leon Avenue along the undulating lines of the Olmstead Parks. In the truest sense of the word “sanctuary” and in keeping with the mission of Atlanta Audubon, the Richardsons have built a place where people and birds thrive.
Much of the Richardson’s sanctuary is devoted to growing daylilies and other plants sold at plant sales benefitting the various conservation organizations with which Jennie is involved, including Lullwater Conservation Garden and the Olmsted Linear Parks Alliance (OLPA). With OLPA, Jennie leads walks describing the trees, identifying plants (native as well as invasive species), and retelling the rich history of the Druid Hills community. She is well-versed in the design principles of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who planned the string of linear parks along Ponce de Leon Ave on Atlanta’s east side (Springdale, Virgilee, Oak Grove, Shadyside, Dellwood and Deepdene). With her knowledge and insight, Jennie has helped ensure the original designs of Olmsted are adhered to in both selection and placement of native plants as these parks are restored.
When asked what motivated her to learn so much about native plants, Jennie’s response was quick and easy: “My grandmother, Melba Edwards Mitcham,” she said. As her story goes, when Jennie was three years old, her grandmother bought a cabin in Dahlonega, near Camp Glisson. Visits to her grandmother’s house were all about the great outdoors—no cozying up under feather comforters. “We were outside, built campfires, and slept under the stars.” Grandmother Mitcham, a master judge in the Garden Club of Georgia, had a great influence over Jennie’s desire to know everything there is to know about native plants and their many uses, including as food (for people and wildlife), medicines, dyes for fibers, face paint, and more. The giant, soft absorbent leaves of the mullein plant were once used to diaper babies.
Some of the more exciting happenings in the Richardsons’ sanctuary included watching a Barred Owl swoop into a large azalea bush where Jennie knew Blue Jays were nesting. “It was like an earthquake in there,” she said. “A whole lot of shaking was going on before the Blue Jays chased the owl away and their babies were safe.”
Another time, a Great Blue Heron was fishing their pond from its perch high on the neighbor’s roof. “Let’s just say the heron won that round,” Jennie said, and is now the subject of a painting overlooking the fishless pond. Another notable and harmless guest to their garden pond was the turtle, a yellow-bellied slider with its rough overlapping plates, perhaps visiting from nearby Lullwater Creek.
Musicians both, Wayne and Jennie add their classical tunes to the ever-present musical sounds of the garden—murmuring water, songbirds, wind chimes. Wayne plays classical guitar, and Jennie plays flute, harp, and keyboard. Art is created there as well. Jennie is a prolific artist, finding her inspiration from nature within her garden and beyond. She has painted a series of images depicting the famous Druid tree in Shadyside Park in different seasons and varying conditions.
This sanctuary boasts a large and mature tree canopy of oaks (Darlington, water, and white), maples, and an understory of yellow wood, dogwood, redbud, oak-leaf hydrangeas, and scores of azaleas.
The Richardsons sanctuary is graced by a large and varied collection of 35 or more colorful, fragrant native American or hybridized azaleas, including Rhododendron alabamense, arborescens, austrinum (Florida), calendulaceum, canescens, flammeum (Oconee), prunifolium, periclymenoides, and vaseyi (Pinkshell), with the yellow “Choptank” being Jennie’s favorite.
The Richardsons are very generous with their sanctuary. Early each spring Jennie places a sign in the driveway welcoming friends, neighbors, and passersby to wander their garden, take photos, and enjoy the fabulous displays of blooming plants, primarily daylilies and native azaleas.
Jennie has spent 25 years growing, propagating, and displaying a great variety of daylilies: Dominic, Mountain Violet, Becky Sharpe, Fountain Tune, Little Business, Peach Magnolias, Spider Daylily, Mighty Saga, and Pink Sleigh. All are descendants of the “orange ditch lily.” Jennie describes her current favorite name-variety as hemerocallis “Nancy Bray.” “She is several shades of mauve with a yellow throat. She is not a new day lily, nor a particularly expensive one. I like the subtle colors and the lack of over-the-top frills. She is just simply beautiful. Some years back, and quite by accident, I got to meet a relative of the woman, Nancy Bray, for whom this daylily is named. Nancy Bray is no longer alive, but her gorgeous namesake lives on.”
Although much time and garden space are devoted to azaleas and daylilies, Jennie’s all-time favorite flowers are these wildflowers of North Georgia: pink lady’s slippers, trillium erectus, Catesby’s trillium, and bloodroot. Many are found in her yard or in nearby Deepdene Park.
Jennie and Wayne Richardson’s garden, now a certified Atlanta Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary, joins a growing network of wildlife sanctuaries in Atlanta. Along with close-by applicants for certification, this section of Georgia’s capital is well on its way to become a leader in bird and wildlife-friendly places in metro Atlanta.