PROFILE: Susan O’Brien

February 12, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY T MICHELE WALKER – It all started with a blank canvas; a blank canvas an estate built in 1670.

“I’m from Sherborn, Massachusetts, where we lived for 35 years,” said Susan O’Brien, Boca Grande Garden Club president. “We lived on a farm that was built in 1670. It was wonderful. When I started out there, one of my friends, my daughter’s godmother said, ‘Will you get her into a garden club so she can do something with this place.’ And it really turned out to be quite spectacular.”

From planting antique gardens, perennial gardens, shade gardens and an English cottage garden, Susan took a blank landscape and turned it into something special. In the process, she found a passion that has remained with her to this day. She also took her daughter’s godmother’s advice and joined a garden club.

As the president of the Boca Grande Garden Club, Susan is dedicated to providing an excellence the members have come to expect through the years.

“I joined the Garden Club the first year I was here,” she said. “The great thing about the Boca Grande Garden Club is that you don’t have to live here for a long period of time. I joined right away and jumped in and did a table scape the first year. It was a great way to meet people. The members of the Garden Club are some of the nicest people I have ever met.”

This season has not been without its challenges due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Yet, Susan and her team have managed to provide stimulating, high-quality events for the members.

“We’ve managed to have two very successful outdoor presentations. And the next event features Margot Shaw, who is the editor of Flower Magazine. It is scheduled for March 3 and will be held at the community center,” Susan said.

The Garden Club has been especially creative in making its presentations available online. Susan credits the excellent volunteers, especially the Garden Club webmaster, who didn’t make it down to Boca Grande this season due to COVID-19.

“I sent her that video Thursday after our meeting and it was posted to the web right away. The feedback has been fabulous. Someone wrote to me and said I love to see this, I felt like I was there. I think a lot of people that are on island love the fact that they can watch it online.”

We’ve worked super hard and I think if you go to a Garden Club meeting it’s going to feature someone that is terrific. “Everyone is so positive and has a great attitude, like we’re going to get it done. It’s some of the nicest camaraderie I’ve experienced because we all have the common love of gardening and flower arrangement or growing vegetables. Everybody is here because we have this love and want to enhance the natural landscape.”

As every gardener knows, different plants thrive in different climates. Despite the wide variety of flora and fauna found in Florida, there is one flower that Susan misses from her garden back home.

“I am a big peony fan and I really miss them,” she said. “Our peonies in Sherborn were special. The originals came with the house and they had probably been there since the early part of the 20th century. They were spectacular. We do have peonies in Nantucket, and we planted varieties that bloom in June, so I do get to see them which is great. I also miss hellebores and bulbs. On the flip side, I have five gardenia trees here that bloom late March, early April. You just sit here on the back porch as it wafts over you.”

Susan’s Boca Grande garden is a thing of beauty, but there is one particular rose that is special to Susan.

“That rose in the front garden was given to me by a famous Florida rosarian. He was a speaker four to five years ago. And it has bloomed nonstop, no one can believe it,” she said. “I really love gardening. It gives me so much pleasure. We have a house on Nantucket Island and at age 68, I did my first vegetable garden this past summer. We grew all of our own herbs, tomatoes, eggplant lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers. It was our first year doing it, but this year we’re going to make a bigger garden because you know it was fun. I enjoyed saying, ‘I’m going out to the farm to pick lettuce for dinner.’ I have even started to grow them here in my Florida garden. I have tomatoes growing here, and all my herbs come from here, so it’s nice and brings me such joy.”