Planting Serenity

Rear Adms. David Woods and Jeffrey Harbeson render hand salutes during the playing of the national anthem at the Joint Task Force Guantanamo change of command ceremony, Wednesday. Harbeson was relieved by Woods as commander of the JTF..

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Erica Gardner

JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs

Tall, leafy trees and brightly blooming plants line the dirt path of an oasis where personnel at Guantanamo Bay are able to escape the daily grind of deployment.

Volunteers manage and maintain the base’s many exotic plants as a way to soothe their spirit and soul.

Base nursery volunteer Don Lloyd explained his love for gardening allows him to relax from his everyday job as a systems administrator with the naval hospital. During the past five years on the island, Lloyd has encountered many variations of plants, trees and herbs.

“I enjoy being in the nursery learning about the plants,” said Lloyd. “We take cuttings from plants around the island and produce new plants for base residents to enjoy.”

The Public Works Department nursery was started several years ago by school teachers as a class project. As they rotated from the island, volunteers kept the project alive, learning about plant care and creating a serene atmosphere for base residents to enjoy.

“Volunteers are necessary to help us keep this nursery blooming,” said Frances Diverson, also a volunteer at the PWD nursery.

Diverson learned how to care for similar tropical plants while gardening in Hawaii, where she lived for a few years.

Exotic species such as large palm and banana trees, Mother-in-law’s Tongue and hibiscus welcome visitors as they enter the nursery. Benches placed under trees serve as a relaxing environment to read a book, listen to music or take in the beauty of blooming plants.

“We are able to provide this sanctuary because of the volunteers,” said Diverson. “We are very grateful to them for helping us keep this place clean and maintainable.”

Troopers from Joint Task Force Guantanamo and Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion work with other volunteers at the PWD nursery to assist in maintaining the grounds.

“This is my first time volunteering,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Lynny Mahoney. “I want to help improve Guantanamo and make it look better.”

Mahoney and three other volunteers raked fallen leaves around several pens containing similar types of plants, and hauled the leaves to an outside bin.

Army Cpl. Robert Keller from the 525th Military Police Battalion raked leaves and reflected on being in a garden.

“This place reminds me of home,” said Keller. “It is quiet and beautiful.”

This is the third time Keller has volunteered his time to assist with nursery maintenance. He and other volunteers transplanted and watered some newly rooted seedlings.

“We cannot maintain this nursery without their help,” said Diverson. “We look for more people to assist us but with the rotation of personnel, it is hard to keep them.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Snow hauled several wheelbarrow loads of leaves from the nursery grounds. This is Snow’s first time volunteering with the nursery and he toured the planting and watering station located in the middle of the nursery.

The PWD nursery is open to the public every first and third Saturday of the month from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Guantanamo Bay residents are encouraged to volunteer and choose a free plant. Volunteers are welcomed to show up every Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until the nursery’s needs have been met.

If you are feeling the stress of being deployed and need to focus your attention on something other than work or home, consider getting your hands dirty at the base nursery.

“Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, and learn about plants and how to take care of them,” said Lloyd.