After more than 30 years, Frank Williams has retired from his position as the groundskeeper for the University of Georgia Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden (CGBG) at the Historic Bamboo Farm, but he still works there three days a week. Even at 75, he hasn’t slowed down.
Friends of the Coastal Gardens (FOCG) recently named a classroom at the Savannah, Georgia garden complex in Williams’ honor to show their appreciation for his hard work and dedication. Photographs of Williams adorn the walls of the Frank Williams Classroom.
“I was honored when Mr. Jim asked me if they could honor me,” said Williams of FOCG President Dr. Jim Andrews. “Mr. Andrews has always come up with ideas, and he has worked alongside me to make things happen here. When we started work on the camellia garden, it looked like a junkyard. But we dug up stumps, worked hard and got it done.”
Williams’ work at CGBG has always been very labor-intensive, but he never complains, and he has never taken a sick day.
“The work was hard, and I did a lot of it by myself. But I believe you can’t let the work, work you. You have to work the work,” he said. “And, at the end of the day, your work will speak for you. I prayed for this job and God answered my prayers. And I told Him I would work hard at it.”
Williams’ work does speak for him. More than 100,000 visitors come to CGBG each year and enjoy the results of Williams’ weeding, mowing, tending, planting and pruning. Seeing visitors enjoy the garden brings Williams joy.
“The more I do out here, the more people come. They enjoy the beauty, and they enjoy nature. I cleared trees and cleaned up the back part of the pond, and now more people come to that spot and get peace,” said Williams.
He is fondly called “Mr. Bamboo” and earned his nickname by tending CGBG’s 160 varieties of bamboo. Now an expert on the plant, Williams says bamboo can grow 18 inches in 24 hours. Williams strongly suggests home gardeners think long and hard before adding bamboo to their landscapes.
“If you get it, you’ll be stuck with it because it’s really hard to get rid of,” he said. “People always come here to see the bamboo. I used to wonder what they saw in the bamboo, and then I saw something.”
Over the years, Williams began to appreciate bamboo and has since crafted bamboo chairs, tables, display racks and fans.
“If someone has an idea for something made from bamboo, I can do it,” he said.
Williams also turns bamboo pruned from the groves into bamboo chips to use as mulch throughout CGBG. He says bamboo chips keep weeds down and don’t decompose as quickly as bark or pine straw.
Gardeners know that there are always things to do in a garden. Williams favorite garden chores are pulling weeds and working in the bamboo. His secret to staying cool working on Georgia’s hot summer days is to wear a thin, long-sleeved shirt and to drink cold water.
Like many state workers who manage limited budgets, Williams found ways to stretch dollars and often recycled or repaired items at CGBG. He repaired an old surplus tractor and brought it back to life to use in the garden.
Now, Williams teaches the new generation of garden workers how to maintain the gardens and the tractor.
“Mr. Frank is a great example and mentor to the younger employees at the garden,” said Tim Davis, current CGBG director and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Chatham County coordinator. “When others would sit out of work, Mr. Frank is always here. He recently came to work and never missed a day despite being treated for a medical condition.”
Williams, who was fighting cancer, happily reports he is cancer-free.
“Way back, I told the Lord if He found me a job, I would work and work and work,” he said. “I did and I was able to build a house that’s paid off. And it’s got insulation. It’s not like the one I grew up in where you could see the ground through the cracks.”
To learn more about CGBG, go to coastalbg.uga.edu.