From blank canvas to lush landscape

Story by  Pamela A. Keene
Photos by Michelle Boaen Jameson

Visitors approaching Chris Michael’s lakeside home from the street have an aerial view of his roof. “The mailbox is actually about 10 feet higher than our roof,” Michael says. “And because we live on a cul de sac, when we first moved in 35 years ago we ended up with most of the runoff from the rest of the street in our yard.”
Drainage challenges didn’t rain on Michael’s desire to create a stunning yard. In fact, his home was featured on the 2017 Hall County Master Gardeners “In Our Own Back Yards,” a summer tour of private gardens in the county.
Michael’s run-off problems are behind him and his yard is a showplace, but it took him doing several fixes before contacting Grant Gardens for a workable plan. “We decided to remodel our home and lot in 2009, so we got in touch with Grant Gardens and Shay (Grant) created an excellent plan, which we implemented a bit at a time over the past several years.”
The front yard had been terraced and several retaining walls were built by various gardening companies leading up to the major overhaul. At the recommendation of Grant Gardens, Michael added an underground irrigation system, installed faux rock retaining walls, installed natural stone steps leading up to the street and planted a few shrubs.


While he admits that his outdoor gardening skills were lacking early on, he regularly volunteered at the Atlanta Botanical Garden/Gainesville when work first began there and it was called Smithgall Woodland Legacy.
“I have a really green thumb for houseplants, but gardening outdoors was a new thing for me,” says the now-retired IT professional at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “Mildred Fockele and the other staff and volunteers at the Botanical Garden are so knowledgeable and helpful.”
The experience also put Michael in line to be “paid in plants” for his donation of time. “I have ended up with some awesome and rare plants, extras from the Botanical Garden, either things we propagated ourselves or that were surplus plants that had been brought there. I’m especially proud of the White Cedar I rescued from a dumpster,” he says.
In 2012 he became Hall County Master Gardener and further expanded his gardening experience and network of friends. “In turn, it has been the most wonderful experience. I still learn things every day.”
Michael has been named “Top Volunteer” at the Botanical Garden for the past several years. In 2016, he was named “Master Gardener of the Year” by Hall County Master Gardeners in recognition of his dedication and volunteer service to the organization.
Once he resolved the issues of his front yard slope and drainage, Michael turned to his back yard, realizing that he would have to adjust his thinking about plant selection because it was all shade and hardwoods.
“There wasn’t much grass and with the shade I knew there wouldn’t be, so I found other things to plant, such as liriope or Mondo grass,” he says. “I also realized that making the backyard interesting wasn’t just about creating a sea of green, but that I needed to add plants and shrubs with different textures and seasonal blooms.”
He says he’s most proud of that White Cedar tree and the work that he’s done in his back yard, including finding enough sun there to plant a small rose garden and several blueberry bushes. A recent storm blew down a large tulip poplar tree in the back and he turned it into an opportunity to add more sun-loving evergreens.
In addition to the shrubs and trees, Michael and his wife Peggy have planted containers, placing them on the steps in the front yard and along the deck. “We’ve actually got about 50 containers with mostly annuals, a few perennials and even some tropical houseplants to make them interesting. Plus we can move them around for color,” he says. “Thanks to the Atlanta Botanical Garden/Gainesville, and Hall County Master Gardeners, I’ve learned that the secret of gardening is planting the right plant in the right place.”

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