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Backyard Escapes Pt 1: Enter the Enchanting Garden of Sean and Andrea Purdy in Neely Farm

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On a quiet cul-de-sac in Peachtree Corners hides a garden worthy of being booked for weddings, portraits and movie sets. It’s a backyard that could easily be right out of Veranda, the magazine.

It’s hard to believe that koi fish enthusiast Sean Purdy didn’t really have a plan for his impressive yard when he and his family moved in five years ago, aside from providing a home for his 14 pet fish.

Sean and Andrea Purdy. Photos by Patrizia Winsper

Yet the koi pond, surrounded by Japanese maples and a pagoda statue, with its beautiful stone work, the soothing sound of water making its way down a tiered waterfall spilling into it, was just the first of many increasingly ambitious projects the Purdys have been working on since their move to “The Farm,” as Neely neighbors like to call it. “It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Sean said.

The koi are certainly thriving; they’re startlingly large. “They only grow as large as their environment and their breeding allow,” Sean said. These are big fish in a large pond.

A brainstorming session with Landscape Architect Steve Brewer resulted in the design of the magnificent lily pond. “He designed the shape of the wall. I came up with all the materials,” Sean recalled.

Perched above the lily pond, water splashes from the mouth of a koi fish being held by a standing young boy, a friendly turtle at his feet. It’s a life size, antique bronze fountain, circa 1870, a favorite find at a Roswell antique shop.

After the construction of the ponds, the surrounding landscaping was developed giving careful thought to a garden for all seasons.

To Every Time and Season Some Beauty of Its Own

“Different plants bloom at different times and seasons. You figure out when their blooming period is and incorporate them, so there’s always something blooming,” Sean shared.

A palette of pink, purple and white intermixed with some red blooms comes to life in spring: peonies, irises, hydrangeas.

Andrea pointed out a heavily blooming area in the garden and as if on cue, the daintiest of insects flitted about, attracted to the summer flowers which will bloom into fall. “It’s just beautiful; I love the butterfly garden,” Andrea said.

The purple and yellow water lilies appear too perfect to be real, yet avid gardener Sean pointed out, “There should be more lilies. They’re not all blooming right this minute.” I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful spectacle.

To delight in the fall: “The camelias will be blooming soon; they’re budding up right now,” Sean said. Then the Lenten roses, with their evergreen foliage and winter blossoms will appear.

A gravel pathway and stone staircase wind around the garden to a round clearing projected to become an additional patio with rose-covered trellis. Sean built the charming garden shed last year.

Pandemic Relief — Backyards for the Win

Andrea has hosted a few book club meetings around the fire pit, which lends itself nicely to social distancing.

Safe visits with her elderly mom are also ideal here. “We can sit and chat outside. I get a chance to enjoy it much more than Sean,” Andrea jested.

Gardening Is a Work of Heart

Sean cites constant weeding and trimming. He’s had to relocate some plants. “The soil conditions here are really not that great. We’re on sandy clay. It doesn’t percolate very well,” Sean said.

This garden oasis is an ongoing passion. “There’s one last stage I need to take care of,” Sean affirmed, but we don’t believe him.

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

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Backyard Escapes Pt. 5: If You’re Lucky, You’ll Discover Happiness in Your Own Backyard Like Bob and Lori Howard in Forest Hills

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What if you could feel like you were in the north Georgia mountains every time you stepped outdoors? That was the inspiration for Bob and Lori Howard’s posh backyard makeover upon settling into their retirement home.

An environmental engineer, Bob designed and supervised the transformation of their yard. A home designed for empty nesters doesn’t come with the largest yard, but every square inch of this one is gorgeous.

Taking advantage of the natural topography — their property slopes towards the back of the home — Bob had a vision of what could be there and brought it to life exquisitely. It’s difficult to believe their yard once consisted of privet and a few short pine and other scrubby trees. “There was no landscaping. It was a cosmetic disaster,” Lori recalled.

They were able to develop their outdoor space into a striking deck, a series of retaining walls and flowerbeds, a marvelous waterfall, koi pond and patio haven which they’ve been reveling in for 12 years.
“It’s a comfortable place to be. We turn music on, have the waterfall going, drink a margarita and life is good,” Bob said.

“We have under decking, ceiling fans, a fire pit and a warming light on the patio, so we can sit out almost year-round,” Lori added.

Color changing landscape lights illuminate the waterfall at nighttime. From the patio, one has a breathtaking view of the waterfall.

Most evenings you’ll find the Howards on their patio, listening to The Bridge on SiriusXM. “Bob also put in a sound system. I’ve had a live-in handyman for 40 years; I’ve been blessed,” Lori smiled.

Bob and Lori Howard

The Howards have been able to share their lovely surroundings with family and friends. Their friends were married here, they host neighborhood parties — not this year, of course. For their 70th birthday, they welcomed a large group of friends. A country western singer came from Nashville to perform for them.

“This is a good party house. It flows very nicely,” Lori said.

Extreme Remodel

The stonework in the Howard garden is impressive. “There are probably 20 or 30 tons of stone and rock on the slope. I laid out where I wanted it with spray paint, bought the stone and the contractor, Nick Carillo, built it,” Bob reported. The tiered, stacked stone retaining walls were built to create flat areas for planting flowerbeds.

Bob conceived the 3,500-gallon koi pond including the pumps, biological filter and UV light. “We have large koi. I designed it so the herons could not get access to fish,” Bob said. “They can stand on the edge, but they can’t get into the water to get any fish; it’s over four feet deep.”

A coyote’s attempt at catching the fish was captured on their security camera. The fellow almost drowned after falling in, but he was able to scramble to safety.

Knock on Brazilian Wood

They originally had a poorly made deck that was falling off the house with nothing but earth underneath it — but Bob had plans to rebuild it. He selected premium Brazilian cherry wood for the new, sturdy deck. “I like the reddish color and it holds up longer than pressure-treated pine,” Bob said. He designed and built the deck with his son’s help.

“On our last deck, we used Trex composite wood. We love the way it looked but it holds a lot of heat in the summer,” Bob said.

The new deck has a stair system with a boardwalk that goes over to the back slope. Steps lead to an area by the waterfall.

Carillo poured the foundation, reinforcing the sandstone patio for the posts. “I didn’t want to have that much weight on the sandstone patio without having a foundation underneath,” Bob said. “It has worked well. Knock on wood.”

Pandemic Relief —Backyards for the Win

The couple hosted an engagement dinner for their youngest son and his fiancée in August. They’ve been able to gather with friends, one couple at a time, socially distanced on their patio. “That’s how we’ve managed to do it, with people our age who have been quarantining and staying close to home like us,” Lori said. “They wear masks when they come in. Outside we serve drinks, hors d’oeuvres and talk.”

Gardening Is a Work of Heart

Amid a backdrop of hydrangeas, ferns, azaleas, Japanese maples and dogwoods, Carillo and his crew return every spring to plant annuals: begonias and impatiens. In the fall, they pull out the gardens and winterize the flowerbeds.

“Yearly, at the beginning of the season, I have to pressure wash and seal the sandstone patio,” Bob said. “It has a water finish look; it’s really quite beautiful.”

The Howards have had four different homes in Peachtree Corners since 1984. This is their last. “You really want to have a nice backyard, a retreat you can enjoy,” Bob said.

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Gwinnett Tax Commissioner awarded CARES Act grant to cover convenience fees for 2020 online property tax payments

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Gwinnett property owners have the opportunity to pay property taxes online using debit or credit cards without incurring added convenience fees, Tax Commissioner Richard Steele announced today.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to pay their property taxes safely,” Steele said. “Obtaining this grant helps us do that, and I sincerely hope people take advantage of it during the pandemic to pay online from the safety of home.”

The Gwinnett County Office of the Tax Commissioner was recently informed of its successful application for obtaining a CARES Act grant to cover the cost of convenience fees for online property taxes. Taxpayers who have already paid their 2020 taxes and incurred a convenience fee will automatically receive a refund of the fees via the card they used from payment processing vendor Value Payment Systems LLC.

Online payments can be made at GwinnettTaxCommissioner.com/pay and include these options:

· E-check, debit or credit card with no added convenience fees.

· Scheduling payments in advance, as long as the total is paid by the Dec. 1 due date.

Property owners who have questions or need assistance may contact the Tax Commissioner’s Office 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays via email to Tax@GwinnettCounty.com, by phone at (770) 822-8800 or initiate a chat on any device from GwinnettTaxCommissioner.com.

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Backyard Escapes Pt. 4: Come Gather in the Garden of Jay and Jill Lowe in Peachtree Station 

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What if the weather couldn’t ever foil your plans to spend time outside? That’s the case at the home of Jay and Jill Lowe. Little remains of the teal green shuttered house they purchased 20 years ago. Their recent improvements include an architectural pavilion in the backyard— a sheltered center for gatherings and celebrations.

“This was Jay’s vision,” Jill said. “I gave him a hard time about the size of this space. I thought it was a little over the top. Actually, it’s my favorite room in the house. I love it. It’s big but it doesn’t feel overbearing. It’s perfect.”

Jay designed the 30-foot x 30-foot all-cedar structure, acting as general contractor. It’s equipped with LED lights in the ceiling, a granite bar countertop, a refrigerator, living and dining areas, a stacked stone gas fireplace, fans, heaters, outdoor curtains to enclose it, a Sonos surround system, two televisions and security cameras. The Lowes have this stunning space to entertain family and friends all year long.

“We put an aluminum roof above the support beams because Jill likes the pitter patter of the rain,” Jay noted. Insulation in the 17-foot-tall pitched roof helps to keep it from getting too hot in the summertime.

Their four dogs and kitten, Axel, like to spend time here as well. “We’ve had fires out here, watched movies and football games. I like the girls to have friends over, so I know where they are,” Jay said.

A 600 square foot patio extends around the pavilion to meet a large, level lawn which stretches to the back of the long yard. On the left side of the patio, there is a large hot tub, and to the right, another unusual backyard structure.

When Nature Calls

An outdoor bathroom complete with sink, shower, urinal and toilet is available for guests visiting the party pavilion.

This prevents “a bunch of kids running in and out of the house,” Jay said. Regarding using the outdoor restroom in colder weather, Jay said, “I like a wintertime shower; we use the hot tub a lot.”

Fire Pit

The end of the yard opposite the pavilion is rounded out by a fire pit surrounded by string lights and a trampoline, which gets regular use. Orange accents like the Adirondack chairs convey the family’s Tennessee affiliation.

Extreme Remodel

Originally, the Lowes deforested the backyard, removing 65 trees. In 2018, the demolition of a huge back deck and sunroom made way for Jay’s plans. His carpenter of choice is Mimi, a Taiwanese gentleman who has done plenty of work for the family over the years. “He’s the hardest working, most intricate woodworker,” Jill said.

From a muddy plot, to bringing in loads of backfill dirt, to laying the cement pad, the all-season pavilion was underway. Once the frame was up, Jay started building the fireplace. Then the interlocking brick patio was laid. The project was completed last October.

Pandemic Relief — Backyards for the Win

“We are so grateful for this space because it’s made [living through a pandemic] a lot easier,” Jill said. “We can come out here and play games: ping pong, corn hole, basketball.”

Jay and Jill Lowe and Family

She said that their oldest child graduated this year and noted that it was a rough year for seniors. “We were able to host a little graduation party for her. We had tables and chairs spaced out. There’s a lot of room. It’s been great for us. It’s been a blessing,” Jill shared.

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