The value of volunteers

Coker Nuts weeding


By Margo MacIntyre, Curator, Coker Arboretum

The Coker Arboretum’s corps of volunteers, the Coker Nuts, have been furloughed since March 17, but I never had to experience a pandemic response to know the value of volunteers.  Now that I have hours of quiet on Tuesday mornings, I really have the chance to appreciate the scope of their contribution.  It’s broad.

On a typical Monday upon arrival at the Coker Arboretum, Geoffrey, the assistant curator of Coker Arboretum, and I take a walk around. I make a list of chores that are in part due to panic about the state of affairs weed-wise after a two-day weekend. I remind myself that the Coker Nuts will be there ready to weed and neaten up Tuesday morning, and on Monday, I work without worry–help is on the way. Tuesday morning dawns and six eager helpers report (Jody Bisbee, Judy Drost, Marcella Grendler, Tony Hall, Eleanor Rutledge, and Marty Schweitzer). We convene in a designated trouble area and everyone digs in, so to speak.

Weeding in the spring, and by spring, I mean early February until May, is a constant job. Many forces are at work to make sure the weeds go on to produce many offspring. They don’t need rain or sunshine or warmth in copious amounts, but these things help them germinate and reproduce to the fullest. Other forces at work are wind and water that carry seeds from other locations, birds and rodents that consume berries and digest and deposit them in the Arboretum, and the deer (one or more on site) whose furry legs pick up certain weed seeds and carry them everywhere they go, and when their legs are wet, you have a major conveyance for weed seeds, since they routinely walk through all the landscapes.

The Coker Nuts are the most environmentally-friendly, thorough, and sure way to get the job done with the precision needed. Each volunteer has a specialty, so when we embark on our chores on Tuesday morning, each layer of the landscape is addressed. The Coker Nuts move deliberately and slowly through an area and Geoffrey and I make circuits through their work space and widen the maintenance area by quite a bit. Not only are the annual weeds removed, the perennial invaders, dead limbs in shrubbery, debris on the ground are all taken away. At the end of a shift, an area is tidy from top to bottom.  The Coker Nuts then enjoy a lunch together on Franklin Street and the weeds start anew.

For the moment, Tuesday mornings are quiet and we don’t catch up with one another and hear about family and friends in person, but we are keeping up by email and phone. As I go about the Tuesday morning weeding, I miss the camaraderie and that chance to really finish an area, and I appreciate once again, the value of volunteers.