John O’Brien’s different take on Open Farm Day

Print More

John O’Brien checking out his Seven Sun Flower tree (Heptacodium). The new introduction to the horticultural world was discovered in China around 1980. This one growing at O’Brien Nurserymen is the Connecticut State Champion. Photo by Shirley Murtha

The traditional purpose of the Granby Agricultural Commission’s Open Farm Day is to showcase the variety of farms that are found in our town, highlight their products and/or services and perhaps garner some income from sales. While one might be tempted to think that John O’Brien would approach the day with a thought to selling lots of hosta, that is not the case at all.

What O’Brien likes best about the event is the chance to connect people with nature. His property is more than just a showroom for hundreds of varieties of hosta, and many other plants, shrubs and trees, but is also a naturalist’s paradise, with various ecological niches that provide homes and cover for diverse animal and plant life. The prominent pond and stream are certainly an outstanding feature.

O’Brien is acutely aware of the disconnect that especially youngsters now have with nature. He relishes the chance on Open Farm Day to talk about a variety of nature topics that don’t seem to get covered in ordinary school classes anymore. The advance of technology in even the biological sciences has led to the situation where high school graduates don’t know how to determine the age of a tree (by counting the vascular rings on a cross-section of a trunk) or cannot identify many of the insects that cross their paths every day. He likes nothing better than to show off a praying mantis to a youngster who has never noticed one before, or may have seen one but been afraid of it.

It’s not only youngsters who may benefit from an O’Brien tutorial; adults may want a closer look at that mantis, or question what kind of life exists in that pond, or what are those birds that fly out over the open field in the back of the property. Of course, O’Brien’s favorite tutorials involve his favorite topic: his plants. He loves showing off his rare Franklinia tree, named by America’s first famed horticulturist John Bartram in the 1700s in honor of his neighbor, Ben Franklin. He also loves to explain to anyone who will listen that the Ginkgoes in his collection count their ancestry back to the age of the dinosaurs.

So, if you visit the O’Brien Nursery on Open Farm Day, don’t be surprised to not find the proprietor sitting at the check-out table, recording sales. He will likely be somewhere on the property making like David Attenborough or Mr. Rogers for a small gathering of interested visitors.