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Maintenance at The Lodge & Spa at Callaway Gardens

The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens is a conference center and resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia. A Cut Above Landscape Management handles the maintenance for this and other properties owned by Callaway Gardens. The Lodge and Spa has about five acres of turf, 3,000 square feet of bed space for annuals and perennials, two water features and more. A crew of three is there full time, five days a week, and is on call in case something comes up after hours.

At Callaway Gardens, a public educational, horticultural, and charitable organization in Pine Mountain, Georgia, the landscape must always be "show ready" for guests of the property's resort. This goes beyond regular maintenance: the landscape is held to a higher standard and must be kept pristine.

"It has to look good every single day," said Brad Terrell, president of A Cut Above Landscape Management. They received the contract for maintenance at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens after managing projects on other parts of the Callaway properties over the years.

"Managing the landscape at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens has many details; more than an average large commercial project," he said. "We manage all the turf, bushes, perennials, annual flowers, irrigation, hand watering, flowers in pots, the large fountain and waterfall that the Lodge and Spa are known for."

The Land
Terrell estimates that there are about 5 acres of turf at the Lodge and Spa, and "a lot of it is in small areas."

Routine mowing takes two of the three crewmembers a day to complete. A 21" push mower is used in the smaller courtyard areas, while a 42" mower is used in the larger finished turf areas and a 60" mower in the large rough area.

In addition to weekly mowing, the turf is treated with pre-emergents, fertilizer, and weed control. For spot treatments, they have backpack sprayers, and for the larger areas they utilize a large tank sprayer mounted on a truck.

The shrubs, annuals, perennials and potted flowers on site are maintained daily. "Depending on the season, they check them for water, check to make sure there's no insects, and deadhead," said Terrell. He estimates there are about 1,500 square feet of bed space for annuals and another 2,000 square feet for perennials.


Two water features on the property are filled from the irrigation system. The annual and perennial plants are watered via a sprinkler system or by hand. Last year, some of the plants actually outgrew the reach of the irrigation system and had to be hand watered as well as irrigated.


For areas that are closer to the buildings - around guest rooms, conference rooms, interior courtyards, the front entrance, restaurants, and the sports bar - the maintenance team uses battery powered hand held blowers. "They don't make much noise, and they're almost as efficient as our normal backpack blowers," said Brad Terrell, president of A Cut Above.

Beyond the beds, seasonal plants are placed around the resort - for example, in winter, about a hundred poinsettias were installed and watered twice a week. Last year, the irrigation system alone was not enough for the annuals A Cut Above installed in the beds.

"We got them so big last year, that even in the irrigated beds, we had to hand water because they outgrew the sprinklers," said Terrell. "Even though we put extensions on the sprinklers, they still didn't come up higher than the plants because we grew the annuals so tall."

The Water
The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens has two decorative water features - a waterfall that pours over mossy rocks, and a semi-circular scupper fountain.

"We saved them a lot of water on the waterfall," said Terrell. Turns out, it was overfilling, using about ten times as much water as was needed.

"It has an auto-fill feature on it, so it fills up every day - you have to replenish water because of evaporation, and some of it splashes out," he explained.

The waterfall takes its water from the irrigation system and fills up its reservoir automatically. Through testing, the team from A Cut Above determined that it took about four to six minutes for the reservoir to reach a sufficient water level.

"It had been running for the last ten years for 90 minutes every night," Terrell said. "The first five minutes would fill up the necessary water, and then for the next 85 minutes it would just be overflowing and going out a pipe down in a culvert."

"We haven't figured out how much water we're saving, but it's a big deal," he said.


Because the moss is a desired part of this water feature, very little chemicals are used to treat the water. Regular maintenance includes checking the water levels to make sure the water doesn't go so low that it burns out the pump, or that the water isn't overflowing into a culvert. The water features generally do not freeze over in winter, though there was some minor freezing in early January of this year.


There are about 15 pots on site that have to be hand watered. Daily maintenance for these includes checking for water and making sure there are no insects. As needed, the crew will deadhead the flowers.

In terms of more general maintenance on the water features, the team makes sure the water levels don't decrease to the point of damaging the pump. Water treatments are minimal. "The moss that's on the rocks is desired, so we have to be careful what we treat it with," explained Terrell.

The bitter cold snap that followed the "bomb cyclone" in the first week of January 2018 caused some minor issues for the water features.

"Part of the water features froze," said Terrell. "We've had to watch it, because if all of it froze then it would burn up the pumps with no water circulating." Fortunately, the water was still moving. He estimated it would take temperatures at a sustained 15 to 20 degrees for the features to freeze over completely.

The resort environment is not without its challenges.

Given that the location primarily functions as a conference center and hotel, accommodations have to be made during special events.

"If they're doing a big conference, they may have special needs that they want us to accommodate, whether it's patching sod that the last conference attendees tore up, or they're going to be parking vehicles on the nice lawn and they want us to not water those areas," explained Terrell. For some events, they prepare the day before and have a limited presence during the conference. After it ends, they usually go in and clean up the landscape.

"The most challenging aspect is just the overall high level of details," Terrell said. "They call it 'show ready.'"

Also called "the Callaway way," it means that everything is perfect on the property. At other locations there may be some leeway when the annuals fall out of bloom - but being show ready means they are immediately replaced with something new and vibrant.

"The average plant isn't good enough," he said. "The expectation is for everything to be perfect all the time."

The work done by A Cut Above was recognized by the National Association of Landscape Professionals: they received two Merit Awards of Excellence for The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens in 2017.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, February 2018.

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November 20, 2019, 3:09 pm PDT

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