Park Springs offers each homeowner their own landscaping theme

When it was time for Ed and Julia Isakson to move into the next phase of their lives into a home where they could receive continuing care when they needed it, they looked around the Atlanta area and were disappointed with what they found.

So, their sons, Andy and Johnny Isakson, and their nephew, Kevin Isakson, decided to build one.

“They said, ‘Hey let’s build a place,’” said Wes Shirley, plant operations director at Park Springs, the place they built in Stone Mountain, Ga.

Their vision became reality in 2003 when Isakson Barnhart, the development firm run by Andy and David Barnhart, teamed up to build Park Springs, a community of diverse dwellings, immaculate landscaping and a wide range of amenities. Kevin came on board as director of sales and marketing and is also one of the principal owners in the enterprise.

Photos by Ron Barnett.
Turfgrass and landscaping linea lake used for irrigation.Wes Shirley, director of plantoperations at Park Springs.

Named Park Springs because of the many springs on the 55-acre property, the place is more like a country club than a traditional assisted living facility.

Not only does it have a clubhouse with shops, a bar and upscale dining room and state-of-the-art exercise facility, it adjoins Stone Mountain Park, which, among other attractions, has a golf course.

The development was the 2005 recipient of the National Association of Home Builders 50+ Housing Council’s platinum award for the best overall community in the large continuing care retirement communities category and gold award for best common area interior design.

With a close-up view of Stone Mountain, Park Springs is a landscaper’s paradise. That’s where Shirley comes in.

Along with his responsibilities for the general maintenance of the facilities, Shirley oversees the care of the landscaping and turf on the property, with the advice of a landscape committee of members and assistance of one full-time gardener and several crews from Brickman, a landscape service provider with over 160 company-owned branches serving 29 states, out of the company’s Norcross, Ga., branch.

It’s the members, and Park Springs management, though, who have the final word on the grounds maintenance

“We want each person’s house, each building, to have their own landscaping theme, their own design,” Shirley said. “It’s not like just one big complex, and they come through and landscape the whole place. We really try to focus on each home and how that owner wants their landscape to be.”

Working grounds care at a retirement facility requires a higher degree of sensitivity than most jobs. Park Springs has 497 units, including 25 houses, 50 cottages, 65 health center rooms and 357 villas.

A waterfall feature in a courtyardbetween units.A courtyard between units at Park Springs.

To avoid disturbing members in the early morning hours, the crews using power equipment start work about 7:30 a.m. in the outer perimeter areas, waiting until 8:30 or 9 a.m. to move in around the housing units, said Michael Lackey, branch manager for Brickman who supervises the crews at Park Springs.

Most of the residents are home during the crew’s visits, unlike on most jobs.

“With that, you have a lot more customer interaction than you would see on a commercial office site,” Lackey said.

A full-time gardener, Sylvester Jackson, handles the detail work, taking care of requests from homeowners and property management, as well as punch-list items that come up during inspections. He also helps with monthly inspections of the entire property and maintains a one-on-one relationship with members.

Country club turf

One crew does mowing two days a week, and another crew comes in on a regular schedule for pruning, fertilization, insect control and other routine maintenance.

In keeping with the country club-like feel of the place, Park Springs’ turf is 419 bermuda, which gets pampered with five fertilizations a year plus spot-treatments as needed, Lackey said.

For insects, he uses IPM with treatments only as needed. Since most of the turf areas are not walked on, there’s not much compaction and aeration hasn’t been required.

He uses Exmark mowers—21, 48 and 52-inch walk-behinds and 61-inch Lasers. “The property is so big and diverse that we’re able to use those different mowers throughout,” Lackey said.

He tries to keep the turf between 3 and 3.5 inches and does no overseeding in winter. Insects and diseases haven’t been much of a problem, other than a few mealy bugs, which can be handled with spot treatments, he said.

The property gets its irrigation water from a spring-fed lake, which has been adequate for almost all its needs, even during the drought of the past couple of years in Georgia.

“Of course, there are some areas that require additional water when you have drought and stuff like that, but most of the time we try to reduce the amount of water needed and try to water deep if it’s needed,” Lackey said. “I think everything held up really well this summer without having the water running consistently with the drought that we’ve had.”

The irrigation system is also tapped into city water, which had to be used for two weeks last year, but wasn’t needed this past summer, Shirley said.

“Usually, right before we decide to make that decision we’ll get a small rain, and when it does, you can literally watch [the lake] fill up,” he said.

Landscape features

Part of Shirley’s job is to walk the entire property and talk to members about the landscaping. Each building holds a monthly meeting in which the landscaping is part of the discussion.

Because of the dry weather, more drought-tolerant plants were used during the summer, including lantanas, vincas and petunias, rather than the heavier water-users, such as impatiens and begonias.

The property isn’t totally manicured. It also includes a few natural wooded areas with walking trails.

One feature particularly popular with members is the herb garden. “In our restaurants here they use the herbs from our herb gardens,” Shirley said.

Members enjoy harvesting the herbs located right outside one of the complex’s restaurants near a butterfly garden.

“They come and pull weeds. They come here and trim stuff and harvest some of the stuff,” he said. “We try to do as much with the member interaction as we can. Also, it keeps them more healthy. It gives them something to do, and they enjoy it.”

The community has its own greenhouse, and members grow their own flowers and vegetables in various plots around the property.

The front entrance of Park Springs.

Park Springs is the first of three retirement facilities Isakson Barnhart is developing, each of them unique.

Under construction now in the upscale Buckhead area of Atlanta is Peachtree Hills Place, a 23-acre property that also will be extensively landscaped.

On the drawing board are plans for a third retirement community in Cobb County, Ga., that will feature a farming lifestyle where members will grow some of their own food that will be prepared by chefs on the staff.

Ron Barnett is a freelance writer and has been a frequent contributor to Turf over the years. He resides in Easley, S.C., and is always on the lookout for new and interesting stories in the Carolinas, Georgia and east Tennessee.