On any given Monday, hidden among the more than 150,000 plants growing in the nursery at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, you can find two dirt-lovers — Georgene Yamada and Margery Hexton deftly plucking weeds.
The ladies are two of the longest tenured volunteers at the NTBG nursery. Yamada, 81, hails from Southern California and began volunteering in 1992. Hexton, 89, is from Chicago and has been volunteering since 1994.
For these two green thumbs, the reason to keep coming back can be boiled down to two things — plants and people.
“It’s rewarding, knowing you’re doing something to protect a plant that will probably die out if there isn’t somebody here to take care of it,” Yamada said. “We’re losing too many plants and animals, they’re going extinct and we’re going to miss them.”
The transplants both began volunteering for the garden almost as soon as they moved to the island.
Yamada moved in next to the visitor’s center in 1991, and by 1992, she and her husband were leading tours.
“We lived 10 minutes away so if someone called in, they knew we could be there,” Yamada said.
Yamada’s daughter threw Hexton into a volunteer job a week after she’d arrived.
“I had a house and a volunteer job, but no furniture,” Hexton said. “She said I wasn’t going to just sit in the house.”
Hexton said she was a Girl Scout leader for 25 years and she’s “big on ecology and plants.”
“I just don’t want the island to fall into the ocean, I guess,” Hexton said.
Though the two ladies are dedicated to plants, they aren’t alone in the nursery on Mondays. It’s usually a hive of activity, with a dozen or more volunteers washing pots, working with cinder, pulling weeds, and watering.
Spending time with those people is rewarding for Hexton and Yamada.
“Most of the people are not run-of-the-mill people, they have a background behind them and for most of them it’s not plants,” Yamada said. “We all just have a love for digging in the dirt.”
Ashly Trask, NTBG nursery manager, said she relies on Yamada and Hexton, especially during the summer months when volunteers become scarce.
“I have tons of volunteers and they’re helpful, but most of them are snowbirds,” Trask said.
Evonne Revitt, NTBG volunteer coordinator, said last year during the summer there were only two volunteers still coming every Monday, and those two were Yamada and Hexton.
“They are so dedicated and we love them,” Trask said.
Trask is the only full-time employee in the NTBG nursery. She has a part-time assistant and usually takes on an intern.
“I have so many plants and I’m just only one person,” Trask said. “We can always use volunteers.”
Revitt said in 2015, NTBG had 452 volunteers. That was up from 346 in 2014 and 200 in the previous year.
“We’re expanding our volunteer opportunities and providing training and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Revitt said. “My responsibility is to match the person with the job they want to do.”