Wildlife lives in backyard of Riverdale residents

By Justin Boron

Suzanne Norman, 52, lives on the fringe of wildlife. But her home isn't the world of Jack London. It's a backyard in Riverdale.

Within earshot of the sirens and traffic on Ga. Highway 85, Norman walks amidst the flutter of sparrows and slither of snakes in what she calls her "Secret Garden." The Atlanta Audubon Society is so impressed with her digs they declared the miniature preserve a wildlife sanctuary. Her yard will be featured on a tour this weekend of several ornate wildlife sanctuaries across metro Atlanta.

Norman said the private nature areas can make up for the loss of greenspace in over-developed areas.

"The whole purpose of this is to get people to respect nature," she said.

Anyone can do it too, she said, no matter how meager or humble the beginnings.

"You can have it on an apartment balcony," she said.

Norman started with no sod in her yard eight years ago, slowly adding section by section. Now, it is filled with features like a 1,000 gallon pond, a dry creek bed, bird-feeding stations, and shrubbery cozy enough for bird nesting.

From skunks to possum, she said, "I've seen everything in this yard."

Part of her inspiration, Norman said she got from a neighbor, Craig Luna, whose forest-like backyard also will be featured on the tour.

"He's my mentor," Norman said.

A row of 30-foot Leyland Cypress' guard Luna's sanctuary which has been in the works 20 years.

Beneath them, Luna houses Ghost, an albino catfish about the size of a human leg. His 18,000 gallon pond also houses dozens of other gold fish.

What is so fascinating about the monstrous fish and the sky-high trees is that Luna said they were minuscule when he first added them to his backyard. He said Ghost was no bigger than a finger and the cypress' were only three to four feet tall.

There are no uninvited guests either yard. All creatures are welcome, the two gardeners say.

Norman even appreciates a spider web woven above one of her water features.

"Who am I to say what mother nature intended?"