Any Atlanta garden enthusiast worth their weight in soil knows about Ryan Gainey. The world-famous eccentric master gardener designed the yards of Atlanta’s elite (including Anne Cox Chambers), once owned a beloved garden shop in Buckhead, opened his own flowering wonderland in Decatur for tours, and could be seen about town donning umissable colorful tunics, hats, and jewelry.
Gainey died in a house fire on his farm in Lexington in 2016, not long after filmmakers Steve Bransford and Cooper Sanchez completed shooting a documentary about his life. Shortly before his death, an enormous white oak, the soul of his Decatur garden, fell and crushed his house. Bransford, a video producer at Emory, and Sanchez, an artist and garden designer at Oakland Cemetery, spent six years collecting footage. The film, The Well-Placed Weed: The Bountiful Life of Ryan Gainey, premieres May 17 at the Plaza Theatre.
Gainey, who grew up in a working class family in South Carolina, was known to be a man of complexity. He could startle people with his generosity; others with his rudeness. He stole plants from people’s gardens when he didn’t think they appreciated them enough. He referred to plants only by their Latin names, with the express purpose of alienating those who didn’t understand. But he also gifted plants readily, and shared his abundant knowledge with anyone he deemed worthy.