Getting Dirty In The Garden

Pictured: June Hutson. Photo by Diana Linsley.

Webster-Kirkwood Times and South County Times July 14, 2017.

Kirkwood’s June Hutson retired after more than 40 years with the Missouri Botanical Garden so she could spend more time – gardening.

After more than 40 years with the Missouri Botanical Garden, master gardener and horticulturist June Hutson might well have retired this past January for some much-deserved leisure time.

In fact, Hutson said she retired for the opposite reason. She wants to spend as much time as possible tending to her passion — getting her hands dirty in the garden.

The Kirkwood resident started as a gardener at the botanical garden in the late 1970s. She spent the last 20 years as the supervisor of the outdoor gardens at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. Ordering plants and managing staff and volunteers left little time for planting and maintaining the gardens. The love for the hands-on work played a role in her retirement decision.

Hutson said her long-time staff is knowledgeable and can now work independently. It was the right time for her to make the change.

“I really missed the physical work and I had a wonderful crew when I retired. If I was going to continue gardening I needed to retire while my physical health was still good,” Hutson said. “I was 74 when I retired, so, you know, time-is-a-tickin’.”

If she had it to do over again, Hutson said she might have retired in the summer instead of winter when she could have been outside in her garden.

Hutson’s long-time colleague, Chip Tynan, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Horticulture Answer Service Manager, said Hutson could possibly be the “finest plantswoman in the entire region.

“It is one thing to have the skills to put a plant in the ground,” Tynan said. “But it is certainly another to make it look good, to make it blend with other plants, and to keep it alive for long periods of time.”

Tynan said Hutson’s extensive knowledge of horticulture and her depth of experience with different types of gardening make her irreplaceable.

“I would hope June’s contributions to the gardens will be remembered for all time in the history of the Missouri Botanical Garden,” Tynan said. “She’s certainly deserving of that honor.”

Bill Ruppert, the owner of National Nursery Products and local horticulture expert, met Hutson in the 1980s. Since then, the two have worked together on many projects related to plants and gardening. He said Hutson has always been extremely generous with her extensive knowledge.

“June’s generous sharing of information related to her experience with growing new landscape plants here in the Gateway region has been highly valued by the professional landscape community,” Ruppert said. “Not sure who could even come close to June as a horticulture resource.”

Hutson is still closely connected to the botanical garden. She teaches master gardener classes, volunteers in the gardens and is part of the membership board. She also stays busy with organizations like the St. Louis Herb Society and Kirkwood’s 50 Trees Program. To stay in physical shape, she joined Silver Sneakers, an exercise program for older adults.

Volunteering and staying active in the community, Hutson said, will help feed her other passion — people. The transition into retirement has dramatically changed the scope of how she interacts daily with others.

June Hutson walks through her Kirkwood garden. Photo by Diana Linsley.

“I didn’t do well at first. I still really miss the people. I had a wonderful core of volunteers and staff that I naturally interacted with every day and they were all garden people,” Hutson said. “My gosh, I didn’t realize how much I talked until I didn’t have anybody to talk to. But it’s really not sad, and I’m not whiny, but I didn’t realize it would hit me as it did.”

Staying connected to horticulture, learning and challenging herself is important to Hutson. She said her years ahead will be spent with her two grandsons, giving advice on gardening to help as many people as possible, and traveling to see historic gardens in the U.S. and, hopefully, in Europe.

Hutson said she can never get enough of gardening and time spent in the outdoors. Her passion and fascination started as a little girl and has never left her.

“I think one of the things that makes me stay so passionate (about gardening) is it’s such an uncertain science. Things happen all the time. You have to deal with the weather, plants live and die, the natural world is composed of critters that eat your plants, and birds and the whole thing,” Hutson said. “It all comes together and I’m only happy when I’m part of that in an active way. I just feel connected to the outside.”

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