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June Hutson: St. Louis Horticulture Legend

Photo by Diana Linsley/South County Times

After spending more than 40 years working at the Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT), one might think, June Hutson, a master gardener and horticulturist, retired this past January for some much-deserved leisure time. Nope. She says she retired to do the exact opposite. She wants to spend as much time as possible feeding her passion – getting her hands dirty in the garden.

By Holly Shanks (South County Times)

Hutson started as a gardener at MOBOT in the late 1970s. She spent the last 20 years as the supervisor of the outdoor gardens at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. The ordering of plants and managing staff and volunteers limited some of her time to physically work with planting and maintaining the gardens. The love for the hands-on work played a role in her retirement decision.

Hutson wanted to retire on a good note and her long-term staff was knowledgeable enough to function 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’.”

One thing Hutson said she might have done differently was retire in the summer instead of winter time. It would have possibly made the transition and shift in daily routine easier. She said being able to be outside in her garden all the time now is fabulous, but in retrospect, she got tired of cleaning her house “real quick” when she first retired.

Her long-time colleague, Chip Tynan, the MOBOT Horticulture Answer Service Manager, says Hutson could possibly be the “finest plants woman in the entire region” because of her “exceptional experience and quality of skill.”

“Hutson is not only the quintessential dirt gardener,” Tynan said. “It is one thing to have the skills to put a plant in the ground, 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 Hudson’s extensive knowledge of horticulture and her depth of experience with different types of gardening make her irreplaceable at MOBOT.

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

Bill Ruppert, the owner of National Nursery Products and local horticulture expert, first 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 MOBOT. She is teaching master gardener classes, volunteering 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 shape physically she joined Silver Sneakers, an exercise program for older adults.

As well as Hutson’s horticulture knowledge, Tynan said she is also “by nature a people person.” He said he has never known a time around Hutson that she was not friendly, pleasant and welcoming.

“She is a person that is just as likely to give you a hug as put a pruner in your hand,” Tynan said. “But she isn’t going to put that pruner in your hand without telling you how to use it. Everybody who has ever worked with June has learned a tremendous amount as a result of that opportunity.”

The transition into retirement has dramatically changed the scope of how she interacts daily with other people. Hutson said volunteering in the community should help keep her socially active.

“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 future holds spending as much time as possible 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 explained that she will never really get enough of gardening and 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 is it’s such an uncertain science. Things happen all the time you have to deal with, like 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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