Bobbett Holloway’s home is a living love letter shared between her parents.
It’s fitting that the 76-year-old lives on Honeysuckle Lane. Her home, which was her parent’s home since 1962, is surrounded by a garden created to have something blooming every day of the year.
Trees reach high above the roof and azaleas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, gardenias and hundreds of other kinds of plants cover the ground below. Her father, with his green thumb, added to the garden over the years so that something would be blooming for his wife each day of the year.
“Daddy and mother built it, and it’s wonderful,” said Holloway, seated at a table in her backyard garden, birds chirping nearby and a small fountain trickling. “The view from every window is gorgeous.”
It’s not just the home that she loves, though. It’s the land that surrounds it. Her father, Ray Keith, lived there until he died in 2002 after serving as Gainesville’s city manager during the 1970s and 1980s. Holloway’s mother, Radine Keith, died just a few years before him in 1998.
Holloway was living in Houston at the time and didn’t have any specific plans of moving back to Gainesville. She was “a big city girl” and Texas was treating her just fine.
But after traveling back and forth for a few years to help take care of her father, Gainesville began to grow on her. She had found a church in the area, made some friends and, critically, discovered a beautician who knew just the way to cut her hair.
“We were Air Force people, so we never had roots, but it felt like roots here,” Holloway said of Gainesville. “We would come visit on holidays and stuff, so this felt like home because they lived here longer than any place we had lived.”
Cascading flowers around the house and the size of the garden that envelopes the two acres she now calls home made it feel even more like home.
“He planted everything, except for these great big hardwoods, and I think the magnolia might have been here already,” Holloway said of her father, pointing up at the trees.
Holloway grew to love everything about the garden, even though she didn’t have much knowledge on how to take care of it. Before her father died, she asked him to write her notes on how to take care of things.
“He had a green thumb, and he was self-taught,” Holloway said. “The people in this community love this yard and I didn’t want to let it go.”
She’s learned how to keep the garden going from those few notes he left and from a lot of practice. She joined the Hall County Master Gardeners and has gotten plenty of help from friends she’s made there.
“My husband and I have helped her remove trees that have died and we’ve also helped plant some milkweed for the monarch butterflies,” said Rose Barton, a Master Gardener and retired teacher in Gainesville. “And we’ve done some weeding — and a lot of admiring.”
She said her favorite part of Holloway’s garden is the age and size of some of the trees.
Holloway is pretty proud of that, too.
She has two champion trees in her garden. Champion trees are certified by the Georgia Forestry Commission as the largest-known examples of their species in the state.
There’s the 2007 state champion Kwanzan cherry tree that’s about 45 feet tall. Then there’s the 2004 Hall County champion Savannah holly tree that’s also about 45 feet tall.
“I think the age of some of her shrubs and trees, because they’ve been there so long, there’s nothing else that compares to them as far as the size and beauty,” Barton said.
Holloway is so proud of those trees and the rest of her garden that she welcomes just about anyone into it. If a neighbor walks by, she invites them to the backyard to enjoy whatever is blooming that day.
One of her favorites are the hydrangeas. She likes them much better than roses because her garden is best suited for them.
“There’s about three-dozen hydrangeas and daddy probably had just half a dozen,” Holloway said. “They’re easier to take care of, they bloom longer, they change colors, they don’t have diseases and they are beautiful in arrangements.”
And Holloway is serious about arrangements. It’s one of her favorite parts of keeping up with a garden. She gets to share what her father created and what she’s continued to care for with people whenever they’re in need.
Sometimes, she feels like she won’t have enough to make an arrangement, but after a walk through the garden, she always finds what she needs.
“I share my flowers with people in the hospital,” Holloway said. “That’s what I take to people when they’re sick or hurting.”
Don Linke is proud to have helped with it over the years. When Holloway was once again getting ready to invite people into her garden for a garden walk in 2017, he helped spruce things up.
“I think it’s a very special garden because Bobbett puts her heart into the garden and it shows,” said Linke, a Master Gardener and retired airline pilot.
While in the garden, he’s seen some of the interesting and beautiful plants she has. One of his and Barton’s favorite things about the garden is her night-blooming cereus.
“She’s so willing to share,” Linke said. “She’ll send out an email and is open to sharing about it, which is wonderful.”
“Once a year I get to go to her house at 10 o’clock at night to see a plant that blooms just once a year,” Barton said. “Those are spectacular.”
Although Holloway admits she doesn’t spend much time in the garden because it almost runs itself at this point, she enjoys it just the same because it reminds her of her father.
Just a mile from busy Thompson Bridge Road, she said she feels like she’s in the middle of the woods somewhere. Sometimes she forgets she has neighbors.
If she does see you as you walk by, though, she’ll quickly become your neighbor as she invites you into just a little piece of her family and a big piece of local gardening history.
“I just feel so loved when I’m out here,” Holloway said. “I love being in this quiet, beautiful place. It’s like a sanctuary away from the world.”