Change Text Size
Email Columns Print page
Columns: The Online newspaper for the University of Georgia community
Magnify O’Brien, Maureen 2013-h.env garden
Maureen O'Brien, facilities manager and horticulturalist for the Founders Memorial Garden, is responsible for 2.2 acres and more than 700 plants in the garden. Photo by Courtney Rosen

Horticulturalist helps Founders Memorial Garden visitors grow memories

Matt Chambers


Recent and archived articles by Matt Chambers

News Service
News Service
Work: 706-583-0913
By Matt Chambers |
December 2, 2013

Maureen O'Brien has seen some very personal moments in the Founders Memorial Garden off Lumpkin Street. She has seen couples start new relationships or new lives together in the intimacy of the historic greens.

"There are many people who started dating in this garden. I've seen people asking each other to get married, and I've seen people come back and celebrate anniversaries in the garden, and then introduce their children to this special place," said O'Brien, the facilities manager and horticulturalist for the garden.

Horticulturalist helps Founders Memorial Garden visitors grow memories

For the past six years, O'Brien has been responsible for the 2.2 acres and more than 700 plants that originally were proposed in 1939 by Hubert Owens, then-dean of landscape architect. O'Brien calls the garden a "living museum" because of the historic plants and buildings that fill the property.

"Pretty much the bones of what you see in the garden are the same as what was here in 1939," she said. "We do trade plant material out. As things die, decisions are made about what gets put back or replaced."

With the help of two landscape architecture students, O'Brien maintains the grounds and makes sure the facilities, including the 157-year-old house, are ready for special events such as weddings, receptions or parties. O'Brien also teaches classes for the College of Environment and Design.

After greeting the garden cat and tending to the fish in the ponds, O'Brien and her students inspect the paths to make sure there was no damage or items left during the night. They also do some pruning, weeding and work on the edges of the garden almost every day.

"There's always something to do," O'Brien said. "Because we have rich soils in the garden that have been maintained for a really long time, the plants we put in here usually thrive, but so do the weeds."

O'Brien got hooked on plants after a neighbor told her about a job opening at Hastings Garden Center while she was in high school in Decatur. During college, O'Brien spent a summer in Nantucket working for a woman who owned a landscaping business. After that, she transferred to UGA to get a horticulture degree. She went on to get a master's degree in landscape architecture.

After working for the State Botanical Garden and then having a landscape architecture business, O'Brien determined she wanted to do something a little different.

Horticulturalist helps Founders Memorial Garden visitors grow memories

"I mainly did residential work when I had my own business, and that's when I realized I really did love doing garden work for the public more so than individuals," she said. "Then when this position opened up; it was a great way to use both of my skills. It's really a job that I feel is tailor made for me."

Outside of work, O'Brien retains her passion for plants and nature. She has an "intensive" vegetable garden, and just enough grass on which to play croquet. O'Brien and her husband, George Wright, also enjoy going hiking, camping and traveling.

During 2014, as the garden celebrates its 75th anniversary, O'Brien may not have as much time for those weekend getaways and hiking trips.

As part of its anniversary observance, the garden will be the site of a variety of events throughout the year, including a high tea, gala and public performance events every Friday in September.

"With this combination of events, we are trying to have something for everybody in Athens so that those who haven't seen the garden can come visit and those who have been get to come back to something special," O'Brien said. "Many, many people don't even realize the garden is here and open 24/7 or that it is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a great resource for our campus.

"All we ask in return is that people come and enjoy it respectfully and leave their dogs, Frisbees and such at home," she also said.

Horticulturalist helps Founders Memorial Garden visitors grow memories

View as single page

More from this issue

  • December 2, 2013

    Mind games

    Disaster can strike anywhere, at any time. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters can leave behind billions of dollars in damage, along with a reminder of how important it is to be prepared.  Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    ‘Humbled and excited’

    UGA's 22nd president, Jere W. Morehead, was presented with the chain of office and the ceremonial breastplate emblazoned with the university's seal during the investiture program held Nov. 19 in Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Five University Housing staff members win state awards

    Five UGA housing staff members were recognized by Georgia Housing Officers at the organization's annual conference in October at the University of West Georgia. Receiving awards were Scott Nelson, Pattie Rennison, Evan Thrailkill, Ryan Burnette and Abi Aparajithan. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    University of Virginia president to give 25th annual McBee Lecture

    Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, will give the 25th annual Louise McBee Lecture Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. in the Chapel. The event is free and open to the public. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Positive influence

    Positive social interactions with friends and family and involvement in youth programs can be protective factors against depression and poor performance in school, according to researchers in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    UGA ranks 15th on 2013 Open Doors study-abroad list

    UGA was ranked 15th among all U.S. institutions in the 2013 Open Doors report on the number of U.S. students studying abroad. UGA had 1,991 students who studied abroad for academic credit in the 2011-2012 academic year. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Project Safe volunteer ‘wanted to give back’

    One lesson undergraduate Ariel Rothenberg has learned as a volunteer for Project Safe is that there are a lot of people who need help. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    NCATE renews education college’s accreditation

    The College of Education has received a full seven-year continuance of accreditation of its undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    No business like show business

    Spotlight panel discusses art as a career choice Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Students showcased in 2013 Spotlight on the Arts

    The 2013 Spotlight on the Arts festival, like the inaugural Spotlight festival in 2012, attracted some 15,000 people from the university and surrounding community to a range of arts events and activities at venues on and off campus. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Michigan State dean named senior VP and provost at UGA

    Pamela S. Whitten, dean of the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences, has been named UGA's senior vice president for academic affairs and provost effective Feb. 1. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    Obituary: Norm Thomson

    Norman Frederic Thomson, associate professor of science education in the College of Education, died peacefully at home on Nov. 13 after an 18-year battle with cancer. He was 70. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    UGA among top producers of Fulbright scholars

    UGA is listed among the top producers of Fulbright scholars under the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2013, according to the latest ranking from the government's flagship international exchange program. Continue

  • December 2, 2013

    U.S. congressman to give keynote address at 2014 Freedom Breakfast

    U.S. Rep. David Scott will be the keynote speaker for the 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Breakfast Jan. 17 at 7:30 a.m. in the Grand Hall of the Tate Student Center. Continue

UGA Twitter Facebook RSS
Columns is produced by the University of Georgia Public Affairs Division | Feedback