2016 Residential Beautification Award winner
For Hall County: Billy and Latrelle Thomas, 6448 Payne Road, Murrayville
For Gainesville: Bob and Pat Bittinger, 2519 Venture Circle, Gainesville
Every morning, Billy Thomas puts on his green “Australian-style” hat, revs up his motorized Kawasaki mule and drives down to look at his flower, vegetable and fruit gardens. By his side is his wife of 61 years, Latrelle.
“I like looking at (the flowers),” Latrelle said.
“My favorite part of the vegetable garden is I have a healthy appetite,” Billy said with a laugh, patting his belly at the same time.
During their exam of their gardens — which include three to four flower beds including a wildflower and cut flower garden — they keep an eye out for any weeds intruding on their highly tended and organized areas.
“Best time to weed it is when you see it,” Billy said as he reached down and pulled out a weed near the wildflower garden.
The Thomases’ daily routine usually proves fruitful, and that does not include the average harvest of squash, beans, beets, corn, tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe, watermelons and peppers situated on the back portion of the couple’s 3 » acres of land.
For their efforts, Billy and Latrelle won the 2016 Residential Beautification Award from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
Robin Halstead, Chamber vice president of community development, notified the couple about the award June 1. She, in fact, hand delivered the sign recognizing their yard as the winner to their home on Payne Road in Murrayville.
“When you pull up to the Thomases’ you can’t help but gawk,” Halstead said, explaining not only does the couple have a well-terraced yard with its flower gardens in the front but the view of their backyard, with the produce outlined by the mountains is breathtaking. “It’s just wow.”
Halstead said following an article in The Times, a friend and former neighbor called to nominate them.
“That neighbor called and bragged about their yard,” she said, recounting the conversation. “He said it was a must-see.”
She agreed, signifying the reasoning for the Thomases to receive this year’s award.
“I really appreciate other people’s hard work,” she said.
And Billy and Latrelle work hard in their gardens daily. Latrelle said she works early in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoon. But she spends the rest of her day canning the produce from the harvest.
“(Billy) works in them all day,” Latrelle said, thumbing at her husband who was sitting in his recliner.
“I rest about as much as I work,” the 77-year-old said, adding he is seven months younger than his wife.
Their work in the garden is evident on their bodies. Their arms are tanned from working outside. And their handshakes are firm from pulling weeds, harvesting vegetables and digging in dirt.
Latrelle pointed out the garden isn’t perfect.
“I can’t seem to make straight rows,” she said. “Mine are crooked. But my momma said the flowers don’t care if the rows aren’t straight.”
Billy explained he uses a pole to keep his rows straight.
“I will lay it down and start out planting them along a line, then after awhile I will look up and my pole will be gone,” he said and then motioned to his wife.
Her response was just to smile.
That connection was apparent as they showed off their acreage.
“Billy, come help me down this hill,” said Latrelle, who had knee replacement surgery two years ago and still needs assistance from time to time.
Billy immediately turned, walked up to his wife and held out his hand. She gripped it and slowly but surely walked down the hill.
The connection to each other and their families is strong. In fact, several flowers in their gardens were “rooted” from their sisters, mothers, grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s homesteads. Billy and Latrelle grew up on farms in Commerce, which is where they met in high school.
Latrelle’s favorite are the zinnias from her mother’s garden.
“I look at them and think of her,” she said.
Latrelle, 78, also passes down her flowers to her two children and five grandchildren.
“We used the calla lilies at my grandson’s wedding last week,” she said.
As for the produce, family members receive some portions. The rest is picked up by a few customers who drive to the Murrayville residence for their orders.
“It gives us enough money for seed and fertilizer,” Billy said.
The Thomases gained the contacts after selling some of their produce at the original Hall County Farmers Market previously. They quit recently, citing the time-consuming process to transport the food there.
However, the couple continues to work in the gardens daily from April to September. In the offseason, Latrelle works on family trees.
As for Billy, he had one word for what he does: “nothing.”