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Students Design Landscaping for Future Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History

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5/16/2011 – In a pristine new building with a magnificent stacked stone fireplace and gleaming wood walls, floors, and ceilings, Mr. Leon Gathany was presented with quite a dilemma – choosing between two extraordinary landscaping designs for the future Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History.

Students from the Advanced Landscaping class in North Georgia Technical College’s Environmental Horticulture program took turns presenting two intriguing and complete designs. With Tom Kelleher of the Toccoa Falls College maintenance staff and museum proponent Jerry Snell, Mr. Gathany listened to the presentations detailing the ideas and choices made for each design.

“This was a great opportunity for us to take on a real-world project that benefited our community. When Jerry asked that our class get involved with this project, I jumped at the chance to assist because Mr. Gathany was one of my former teachers who heavily influenced me to enter into the green industry,” said NGTC Instructor Craig Thurmond. “The students are applying every aspect of design that we’ve covered in class.”  Long before pen was put to paper, or the computer-aided design program was fired up, the class spent time doing site observations including sun angles, wet areas, micro climates, as well as collecting information on budget constraints and particular customer requests.

Specific requests from Mr. Gathany included a memorial garden for his wife Rachel, the use of native plants, and the presence of azaleas. While these may seem like simple requests, the students took his desires to heart and the resulting drawings cleverly display not only his wishes, but the personalities of both Leon and Rachel.

The class was divided into two teams which took two approaches: similar but different. Both went with low maintenance and took into consideration water drainage issues. Both used river birches and maples. Both allowed for lush lawns to invite picnicking and accommodating the pent up energies of young classroom children, and provided foundation plantings for the main building with a variety of plants including hollies to attract birds, one of Mr. Gathany’s loves.

Although there were many similarities, there were just as many differences.  For example, one focused more on a natural environment with special touches like natural gathering spots along sidewalks as natural conversation areas, and flowering cherry trees for added color and height variations. The other used a more whimsical approach shaping the memorial garden as a guitar since music is a love of Gathany, and incorporating a plant palette boasting hydrangeas, pansies, knock-out roses, wisteria, crepe myrtle and Abelia.

“Once the design is chosen, the construction class will take the next step which will be cost estimating and assisting with the installation,” explained Thurmond.

“Oh, I don’t want to have to choose, so if you put both of them together, I’ll be tickled pink!” said Mr. Gathany.  “Blessings on you.  I deeply appreciate what you’ve done. The drawings have heart.”

They did indeed, and to underscore the moment, the students all joined Mr. Gathany in a touching round of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

For more information on the Leon and Rachel Museum of Natural History, call Jerry Williamson at 706-886-6831.  For more information on the Environmental Horticulture program at North Georgia Technical College, call 706-754-7794 or e-mail to

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