COLUMBIA — When he's not pushing paper, Brett O’Brien helps the city decide what kinds of plants to use for landscaping.
His most recent assignment carried a dose of international diplomacy.
O'Brien, a city parks supervisor, was called on to help design an American garden to be showcased at an international expo in South Korea.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us. We would hate to have passed that up,” O’Brien said. “It is a different type of challenge from our day-to-day work.”
O'Brien, along with city horticulturist Jen Courtney and senior parks planner Toney Lowery, were tapped in November to design a garden for Columbia's sister city in Suncheon, South Korea, at the request of Suncheon's mayor.
The garden, which will be planted on 3,000 square meters, will be among 10 others showcased at the 2013 Suncheon Bay International Garden Expo. Spain, Pakistan, China, Japan, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, France and Italy will be the other countries represented by gardens.
Lowery said the American garden project came during the slower months for the parks team, giving them time to work on the design.
"It came at the right time of the year," Lowery said. "We are usually busy over summer and would not have had the time."
The Columbia representatives worked on the design intermittently for several months, but once they had a clear vision, it took about three weeks to complete. The team chose from a list of trees and shrubs available in South Korea.
“One of the most interesting challenges in this design process was defining the basic concept of what an American-style garden should look like,” O’Brien said. “We selected plants which are familiar to American gardeners or of a similar species.”
For Lowery, the biggest challenge was having to use the metric system.
"I set up the drawings so the other members could work in feet, and then I would make the conversions," Lowery said. "I was the converting guy."
The team sent organizers a copy of the design for review and was awaiting feedback.
A similar design is not likely to be built in Columbia, O’Brien said.
“We don’t have the funding, for one thing, and the design was laid out specifically for that site,” he said.
The garden expo will be held over a period of six months, April to October 2013, as part of Sucheon's efforts to promote itself as an international tourist destination.
Suncheon, located in the southern part of South Korea, holds the distinction of being the country's "green city." The city hopes the festival will attract international tourists and create jobs.
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid, his wife and one member of the design team have been invited by the city of Suncheonfor a visit. The South Korean city will cover all travel expenses, including accommodation and local transportation.
The mayor of Suncheon and six officials visited Columbia in November.