The azaleas don’t care about the virus.
A sea of pink and orange, the bushes are in lovely, full bloom as they continue their march out of the dirt in Bobbett Holloway’s garden on Honeysuckle Lane, indifferent to the fact that the world has hit pause.
The gardens are not obeying guidelines and not heeding expert advice — the blooms are lush and crowded, the gardenias, snap dragons, camellias, peonies, hydrangeas standing shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing the same CO2 on two acres of land off of Thompson Bridge Road.
And the plants, which always have a job to do, are happy because of the good work of 78-year-old Holloway.
Wrapping around the home on nearly two acres of land, splashes of 157 azalea bushes of various shades of pink and orange pierce through dozens of other plant species. Holloway said her father designed the garden to have at least one flower blooming at all times.
Holloway’s garden is also home to many hues of Lenten roses, begonias, irises, daffodils and many other blossoming plants. She even cares for a strange, native flower called toadshade trillium, which produces piercing black flowers.
Myriad trees offer shade to her beautiful blooms like a ginkgo, Yoshino weeping cherry tree, and a 60-year-old Kwanzan cherry tree, which boasts a 2007 and 2020 state champion title.
Holloway recently called upon a gardener to cut her grass, edge the garden, dig holes and trim tall plants. But for the most part, it’s a one-woman show.
“I used to get on the roof (to cut giant plants), but my husband won’t let me anymore because I’m 78,” Holloways said, laughing.
Last spring Holloway would spend eight hours at a time maintaining her plants. She now allotts four hours each day.
Holloway said more than a year ago she passed out while visiting her daughter in Arkansas from what she later discovered was a traumatic brain injury.
“Since I had a subdural hematoma (bleeding between brain and outermost covering), a year ago next month and almost died, I’ve tried to slow down,” Holloway said. “They (doctor) had to cut my skull open, and I had 20 minutes to live. I think the reason I did so well is because I’m healthy.”
Each time she views her garden, Holloway thinks of her parents Ray and Radine Keith, who poured their hearts into the land she lives on now.
Her father lived at the home on Honeysuckle Lane until he died in 2002 after serving as Gainesville’s city manager for 18 years. Holloway’s mother, Radine Keith, died just a few years before him in 1998.
Holloway said the garden was her father’s pride and joy. As for her mother, Radine preferred to stay indoors and make bouquets for patients in the hospital.
Holloway carries on both of her parents’ legacies by helping the garden flourish and creating bouquets for community members.
During the pandemic, she has looked for ways to brighten people’s days with flowers. Just recently Holloway said she delivered a bouquet to her friend’s daughter who had to cancel her 10th birthday celebration.
She also takes bouquets to neighbors and patients in the hospital.
“Sometimes I’ll look in the yard, and it doesn't seem like much is out there,” Holloway said. “And I just pray, and God knows my heart. When I go out and start cutting, there’s plenty to make a bouquet. And I’m amazed every time.”
Because of the novel virus, Holloway said less people have visited her garden this spring. While keeping a safe distance, she hopes her neighbors will take advantage of the vibrant flower smells and sights before they fall off in a week’s time.
“I miss them,” Holloway said. “I encourage people to come and sit in the garden. I don’t have to visit. One of my greatest joys is when people come through and enjoy the beauty.”