(UPDATE) Decatur gardener Ryan Gainey dies in fire
World-famous Decatur gardener and designer Ryan Gainey has died in a house fire at his second home in Lexington, Ga.
The fire occurred on the evening of July 29, officials in Oglethorpe County said. His longtime friend Brooks Garcia confirmed Gainey, 72, had died in the fire after running into the home to rescue his Jack Russell terriers. The dogs did not survive, Garcia said.
Oglethorpe County EMA Director Douglas Spencer said, “I know there’s an active investigation going on … There was a structure fire in Lexington. There was one fatality and the house was a complete loss.”
According to a press release from the Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office, dispatchers received the call about the fire at around 8:30 p.m. A witness told a deputy that Gainey went inside the home with a garden hose and did not return.
Property records for the home, located at 357 East Church Street in Lexington, show the property belongs to Gainey, who owns a home on Emerson Avenue in Decatur.
Mary Pat Matheson, President and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, said Gainey’s death is a “great loss.”
“It’s a great loss for not only our community, but for our country because Ryan was so highly regarded as an esteemed designer and horticulturist,” she said.
Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the city was “saddened to learn” of Gainey’s passing.
Gainey’s Decatur home has been featured in the Decatur Garden Tour, not to mention numerous books and magazines, according to Gainey’s website.
Film crews took over his home in 2011 to shoot the Disney movie “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
Earlier this year a giant tree fell on his home in Decatur.
According to his biography on his website, Gainey grew up in Hartsville, South Carolina and studied Ornamental Horticulture at Clemson University. He later received an honorary doctorate in letters from Coker College in Hartsville.
“Moving to Atlanta, he at last began to nurture his own piece of land, a two-acre garden in Decatur, Georgia which has been featured in every major gardening publication in the United States and abroad,” his biography says. “Visiting this paradise is a highlight each year for the thousands who partake of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Gardens for Connoisseurs tour. His garden has been a featured stop for 20 years.”
Matheson with the Atlanta Botanical Garden said, “The tour will forever remain as a legacy to his talent.”
Gainey also owned Ryan Gainey & Company and designed gardens all over the world. Notable projects include the Visitor’s Center and garden at the South Carolina State Botanical Garden at Clemson University.
“Each garden is an individual vision based on classical design, and filled with the love of romance, informed with a connoisseur’s vision, in tune with seasonal changes, and inspired by the myths, legends, and fantasies of garden history,” his website says.
Garcia said Gainey’s death is a tremendous loss for the city of Decatur and the gardening world.
“He was just such a driving force in this city for so many years. … He’s written books. He’s been in TV,” Garcia said. “He’s just one of those people who is ingrained in the community. It’s a huge loss. It’s a huge loss. It’s completely unexpected, of course, and tragic.”
Julie Herron Carson, a spokesperson for the Wylde Center in Decatur, which focuses on environmental education, has known Gainey since her days working as the marketing director for the Atlanta Botanical Garden. She said Gainey, “was always so generous with his home and his garden and his talent.”
He often acted as an advisor for the Atlanta Botanical Garden and did design work for the Garden of Eden Ball, Carson said.
“He was this wonderful international resource that lived right in our community, and it’s just a tremendous loss,” she said.
Associate Editor Dena Mellick contributed to this story.