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Following in Daddy's flower-lined footsteps

Deer were here, nibbling on the lilies, hitting up the hydrangeas and binging on the blueberries, only to leave a bare bush behind.

Few wonder why the bold creatures ventured onto Bobbett Holloway’s acreage. With just one look, any creature can identify this as a gardener’s home.

Butterflies and bumblebees flit and float, while birds and squirrels gently war over the feeders. Wind chimes tinkle, waterfalls cascade and dirt-caked shoes are neatly piled by the back door, towering above the food pan of the garden’s two fat cats, Smokey Dean and Smokey Ray.

Even the name of the street — Honeysuckle Lane — evokes images of people puttering in beds of vibrant greens, pinks and purples.

“God’s purpose for me is to take care of this piece of his earth,” Holloway said.

The Master Gardener and lover of landscaping strolls through her piece of heaven and says she owes it all to one angel. Her father, Ray Keith, namesake to the cats who roam through the roses, initially created this haven as a way to seek solace from the task of serving as Gainesville’s city manager during the 1970s and 1980s.

“This was his stress relief from building the city,” Holloway said.

He planted everything from the 200 azaleas to the 200 roses bushes to the two champion trees, a Savannah Holly that’s the tallest in Hall County and a Kwanzan cherry that’s the tallest in the state.

“And then I came along and added all the froufrou stuff,” Holloway said, with a wave of the hand toward the extra hydrangeas and the kitschy frog statues.

Not that she ever expected to dig in the dirt. In fact, she had said she wouldn’t. Sure, she experimented now and then with some fruit trees, but her heart wasn’t in it like her father’s was.

“There’s literally a flower blooming every day of the year here,” Holloway said. “Daddy wanted it that way, so my mother, Radine, could have a flower every day. That was his motivation.”

But things changed when doctors diagnosed Keith with congestive heart failure.

“When Daddy got sick, I asked him to start making notes, and before I knew it, I was hooked,” she said.

Holloway started by following Keith’s instructions, but soon she realized she needed more if she were going to properly preserve the 2 acres bursting with buds that “just bloom their little hearts out.” She sought help through the Master Gardeners’ program, and by the time she graduated, her thumb had morphed to include all shades of green.

“I knew nothing when I started,” Holloway said. “But I learned. And then I learned something about myself; I learned that I love it.”

She’s added trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. She’s displayed statues, bird feeders and outdoor waterfalls. She’s built fences, benches and a garden shed.

“Although, with that last one, I built it and then I realized that I don’t actually enjoy being indoors,” she said.

So, she sticks to what she loves — pruning, planting and picking up right where her father left off. Specifically, she prides herself on maintaining his prized orange tree,

“Daddy bought it at the Miami airport in the ’40s, and he just brought it home, and it’s been fruiting ever since,” Holloway said.

The oranges are tiny, about the size of a clementine, and the brand — Calamondin orange, a type of acidic mandarin orange — produces tart, sour fruit that makes a scrumptious marmalade.

“I can’t cook, but my mom taught me how to make a great orange marmalade,” Holloway said.

In addition to the ancient orange tree, Holloway grows bananas and lots of them. With about a dozen Cavendish banana trees dotting her property, Holloway keeps herself busy.

“I don’t know when Daddy got his first one, but he’s had them as long as I can remember,” she said. “He had such a good time with them.”

And so it goes. Each plant has a story, and invariably, that story traces back to Keith, who died in 2005 in his home, with his beloved garden in sight from the window.

“Daddy left his yard as a gift to the community, and I keep it for them,” Holloway said. “It’s his legacy, and it’s my honor to maintain it.”