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The late Ryan Gainey to be honored at History Center tribute

Ryan Gainey, the renowned Atlanta garden designer who died in a house fire July 29, will be remembered in a memorial tribute Aug. 31 at the Atlanta History Center.

The gathering, to be held from 6:30 to 7:30 in the Woodruff Auditorium at McElreath Hall, is open to the public. A reception will follow in the Grand Overlook ballroom.

Gainey, 72, died after rushing into his burning home in Lexington, Ga., to rescue his beloved Jack Russell terriers, Jelly Bean, Leo and Baby Ruth. The dogs also perished in the blaze.

Gainey had moved to his Lexington home temporarily after a massive white oak fell on his Decatur home in March, according to Staci Catron, director of the Cherokee Garden Library at the History Center and a friend of Gainey’s.

“I’ve been studying his design and his work for years, and he changed the face of garden design in the South and in America,” said Catron. “I’ve only known two geniuses in my life and Ryan was one of the two.”

Gainey created designs for influential Georgians and others, including “elaborate full scale theater-style floral designs” for the yearly Swan House Ball, said Catron. “It was mind boggling what he was able to achieve.”

There will be seven speakers at the History Center tribute and appearances by two music ensembles, including Jeff, Johnny and Angie Mosier and the Seed & Feed Marching Abominables.

A roster of four well-known chefs will provide food for the reception.

Jim Landon served as a trustee of the History Center and of the Cherokee Garden Library, and became friends with Gainey, asking him to do some design work on his own garden in Highlands, N.C.

Landon said Gainey was legendarily generous in lending his home for garden tours, and that he was just as well known for his irrepressible personality as he was for his green thumb.

Landon wrote in the program for the tribute: “Ryan was tough as nails and yet the consummate Old World gentleman, who referred to patrons and friends of decades as Mr. or Mrs. or Miss.”

He told a story about a visit from Frank Cabot, former chair of the New York Botanical Garden and one of North America’s most noted gardeners, who once spent an afternoon at Gainey’s Decatur garden, before flying back north to his homes in New York and Quebec.

As Landon gave him a ride back to the airport, Cabot asked, “do you think Atlanta understands what a genius this man is?” and Landon replied, “I think it does, because he reminds us so frequently.”

Organizers ask those who attend to bring a single flower to add to a wreath they will create in Gainey’s honor.

Woodruff Auditorium at the History Center has room for about 400. The center is prepared to accommodate a spillover crowd in an adjacent members room, and possibly more, who will be able to gather in the atrium.

Celebrants can park in the History Center’s parking deck, and once that fills up shuttles will be available to pick up guests who park along Andrews Drive. Those with questions can call 404-814-4046.

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