May 10, 2006 - Ray Payne and his rhododendron paradise in Blairsville, Georgia
Ray Payne's flowers are in full bloom. Rhododendrons, azaleas, trumpet vines, roses, geraniums, annuals, and perennials bring a touch of paradise to Union County . Located west of Blairsville on Highway 76, Ray and Dot Payne's yard is familiar to many people. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers slow down to gaze at the colorful gardens that surround the Payne's house.
Ray says, "Our neighbor, Clara Brackett counted the cars that stopped in one day. There were 70 cars that pulled into the driveway. Some had cameras and others actually got out and walked around for a better look."
Ray has turned his hobby into a full time landscaping job in Union County. With help from son Greg, they keep many places in town looking good. "We set out most of what we grow." Says Payne. "We provide plants and the landscaping for Union County Hospital , the Nursing Home, Bob Head, and the schools. We have to turn down work because we have a full schedule."
Ray Payne has been doing landscaping professionally in Blairsville, Georgia for about 10 years. He started growing rhododendrons and hostas 30 years ago. Payne estimates that he now has 50 varieties of hostas, 300 varieties of day lilies, and many colors and varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas in his Union County paradise.
One rare pink native azalea, or swamp honeysuckle azalea, came from Richard Hampton's wife. "She gave me permission to get it from New Union Church," says Payne. He points to a beautiful climbing rose, "That old pink running rose came from Randall Roger's wife."
Payne knows the names of most of his plant varieties. There is a colorful "Olin Dobbs" and a true red "Vulcan" rhododendron growing among the lavenders and pinks.
Ray propagates his plants from cuttings and seeds. A hundred little "Japanese Maples" grow in one big pot. There are green ones, red ones, bi-color, lace leaf, and plain, all from the same seeds.
Ray and Greg also grow and propagate plants in six greenhouses. They have plants that most nurseries don't carry because the seeds are too expensive. Payne says, "These large-bloom marigolds are an example. You won't find them just anywhere."
Payne has all of his annuals in 4" pots. "We grow our own annuals for setting out in flowerbeds." Says Ray. "They do better in bigger pots." Payne estimates that he has close to four thousand plants including Leyland cypress, forsythia, hollies, and other bushes.
Payne says his yard is low maintenance. "I just blow all the leaves into the rhododendrons and let Mother Nature take care of them." Mother Nature may take care of the leaves, but God has given Ray Payne a green thumb.