Rita “Cookie” O’Brien’s Green Thumb

In 1969, St. Augustine Record journalist Anne Carling wrote “everything’s coming up chrysanthemums, marigolds, zinnias, or petunias” for the St. Augustine Historic Restoration Commission (later renamed the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board). She really meant it as she covered the Commission’s new project to construct a greenhouse on Cuna Street. With 15 gardens, the Commission required many plants to landscape their restoration projects throughout the city – including their living history museum San Agustin Antíguo.

A black and white photograph of two men constructing a greenshouse.
Construction of a greenhouse on Brewster property on Cuna Street in 1969. (UFDC)

The Commission’s construction crew built the greenhouse, which held everything from purple queen, ferns, and begonias to South American specimens. They aimed to grow plants “easily cared for and give plenty of color” as well as from St. Augustine’s earliest days. Some of these flowers and trees from the city’s past included: jasmine, wax myrtle, petunias, alyssum, zinnias, marigolds, carnations, geraniums, fruit and citrus trees, wisteria, oleander, ferns, philodendrons, coleus, vinca, salvia, grapes, and begonia to name a few.

Staff assistant Rita “Cookie” O’Brien put her green thumb to work for the Commission:

“Donning flat shoes, a smock and an attitude of tender loving care Mrs. O’Brien visits the greenhouse almost every afternoon to tend to her many flats of flowers and pots of ferns.”

“Everything’s Coming Up Zinnias, Petunias And Marigolds” by Anne Carling of the St. Augustine Record, March 15-16, 1969. (UFDC)

During O’Brien’s tenure, you could see the fruits of her labor in exterior exhibits – such as the gardens of Arrivas House and Salcedo House.

A black and white photograph from a newspaper clipping showing a woman in tending plants in a greenhouse.
“Everything’s Coming Up Zinnias, Petunias And Marigolds” by Anne Carling of the St. Augustine Record, March 15-16, 1969. (UFDC)

Digitally flip through more stories like this one in the Commission’s scrapbooks at ufdc.ufl.edu.


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