By Curt Yeomans
Aviation Landscape Manager Abra Lee's goal is to eventually get travelers to realize they are arriving in Atlanta when their airplanes are coming in for a landing, and they see out of their windows traditional southern plants, like dogwoods, redbuds and azaleas, flourishing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
There are 35 maintenance workers at the airport who are responsible for making sure the landscape looks presentable at all times. Twenty of those employees work on the areas around the runways. The other 15 work under Lee's supervision, making sure the trees, grass, shrubs, and flowers are in good health.
"We plant several thousands of acres of flowers at the airport every year," Lee said. "My maintenance employees also do a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that people don't always notice, like pulling the vines off the fences. It's more than just cutting the grass and planting the flowers."
The flora and fauna planted at the airport depend on the season. In the spring and summer, flowers with a lot of color, such as wave petunias, angelonias and lantanas, can be seen around the terminals and roads surrounding the airport.
In the fall and winter, vegetables, such as cabbage and kale can be seen, since they provide some color for the cooler months. "Of course, we don't eat them," Lee said. "We just use them for decoration."
Maintenance employees, and landscaping contractors, also spend the winter months cleaning up the airport. Trees are limbed to keep a high canopy, and dead annual flowers, which were planted at the beginning of the year, are pulled out of the ground.
The airport has the dead flowers churned into compost for future use. "It creates a rich organic material which we put back into the soil," Lee said.
Airport officials also hire contractors to collect excess rainwater, which is then reused by the airport's landscapers. The airport will soon become self-sufficient when it comes to reusing rain water.
Officials will have three, 10,000-gallon cisterns installed this fall at what is currently a Northwest Airlines hanger.
"Because we have flat roofs, a lot of rain water collects up there and we'll just pump that excess water into our cisterns so we can reuse the water," Lee said.
Aamni Harris, an aviation maintenance mechanic who works with Lee, said working in landscaping has its benefits. "You get to spend a lot of time outdoors, and this jobs allows you to show your creative side," Harris said.