Meet Your Neighbor: Barbara Cook


About gardening, Cooks says, "Create beauty and restore order. This in return will inspire others to create beauty and restore order in their own lives.''

Barbara Cook of Ocean Ridge considers gardening her true calling and describes herself “a farmer at heart.”
“I’ve done may things in my adult life, and the garden is where I am the happiest. I’m not tired when I’m in the garden, and I’m never blue. It’s something that I love to do — and have to do.”
A good thing she never got tired or blue, because her garden took time (21 years), study (she’s now a certified master gardener), and a lot of hard work (more than 12 hours a week in her own garden, plus volunteer gardening).
Because her acre of garden is a Florida hammock, machinery could not be used to clear the grounds, she explains. “I did it with rake and hoe and bare hands. It wasn’t so terribly hard, but it was time-consuming.”
Slowly over the years, she methodically coaxed her jungle into a garden and got “it all cleaned up.”
Now, she gladly shares her garden and, if asked, offers advice. “I’d hate to think about putting in all that time and effort and not share it,” she said. Here are some of her tips:

• When planning a garden, don’t try to do it all at once. That would be too overwhelming, so take your garden section by section. “I’d take a section to the bare dirt and I’d check the sun and the shade elements. I would think about what I’d want to see, and visit the nursery and tell them my situation. The people in the nurseries were fabulous. They trained me.”
• Don’t be too concerned with your failures. “There are plenty of plants and holes in the ground where the dead plants came from. Killing plants is to be expected.”
• Just get started. “Even if you have a small, intimate setting, it can be beautiful with containers and a choice of plants. With the right little table and chairs, you can have a beautiful getaway of a garden right there.”
• A garden has personality and one must honor it. Hers, she said, is uplifting and inspirational.
“I love beauty. When I had to define the rest of my life, I realized it was to create beauty and restore order. In turn, my garden inspires others to create beauty and restore order and this is my mission and I will do it forever.”
Her garden will be one of six private gardens on the Delray Beach Secret Garden Tour and Luncheon, on March 20.
— Christine Davis

10 Questions
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. The boot heel of Kennett, Mo., on the Arkansas-Tennessee border, cotton and watermelon country. The Southern influence kept me grounded in home and family values.
Q. How and when did you become a gardener?
A.Twenty years ago, my husband, Stan, and I were at the wonderful Bok Towers in Lake Wales. He said, “Find me a Bok Towers.” After much searching, we had to settle on a Florida hammock in Ocean Ridge. It was a jungle. It took five years to clear the ground and find out what would grow in the dense shade and little sun. I started studying and reading every book I could, and picking the brains of every nursery owner. Finally, after 15 years of creating my dream garden, I took a course at the Florida County Extension to become a master gardener. Then, the real learning began. In the meantime, the gardens have been on numerous large group tours, including one bringing in 615 people.
Q. Have you had other careers or hobbies? What were the highlights?
A. My husband and children were my career for the first 20 years. All along, I was involved in gourmet cooking and entertaining clients, decorating, taking college courses in English lit, the stock market, cooking with favorite chefs who came to the area. A favorite was Jacques Pepin. The most valuable hobby was taking the horticultural course to become a master gardener.
Q. Tell us about your garden.
A. My gardens are in five themes, each flowing gracefully into each other. I start a tour by showing the guests a huge bass chime hanging in a century-old strangler fig. When rung, it announces that visitors are coming in to visit the gardens. There is an orchestra of chimes that entertain us daily. There is no grass anywhere, only paths that lead to each theme with a “discovery” around every bend. There is “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” flowing into “Birdhouse Lane,” with 16 houses on posts. On that lane are sculptures of a life-sized mamma and baby zebra, a prehistoric leopard, a lion and a bear. The sculptures were done for us by artists. Five exotic 6-foot birds of limestone are seductively slipped into the greenery. I include some plants familiar to most, then push the appreciation and education of species they probably aren’t familiar with, i.e. Vil Mariniana, or by the common name, “Octopussy,” a huge, intriguing agave. People are welcome at any time to come and stroll through.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Ocean Ridge?
A. The ocean across the street is a magnate for tranquility, the setting of the property, and, of course, the people are wonderful.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. Being from a family of 10 children, I had many brothers and sisters to tap ideas from, but I was especially attracted to three aunts who left the home front to become very successful women when it was unpopular for women to breach the roll of housewife: One was a writer who regaled me with history and tales of our ancestor, Stonewall Jackson, one aunt became a principal of the high school of our town, and one became a nurse. When one of us contracted a childhood disease, all 10 of us did. So, we had the benefit of a private nurse.
Q. Who or what makes you laugh?
A. I love comic strips. I think there is a genius in an artist who can convey in three frames a whole humorous story that takes an author a book to do in 300 pages. People with a genuine sense of humor thrill me.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. An Irish novel by Maeve Binchy called Tara Road.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. Smooth jazz and New Age jazz. I feel artistic with Enya or Andrea Bocelli.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. Now, that is a fantasy, but I would choose Elizabeth Taylor. She would portray me much spicier than I am. I would like to see how she would handle getting grimy in the garden, cooking and attending volunteer meetings and weed-pulling parties. I’m sure she would walk off the set and my movie would be trashed.


If You Go
Delray Beach Secret Garden Tour and Luncheon
When: Saturday, March 20
What: 6 private gardens
Transportation: Trolley takes you around; meet at 8:35 a.m. at the Delray Beach Public Library, 100 W. Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach, in the rear parking lot.
Cost: $47 if you RSVP before March 15, and later than that, $52.
Continental breakfast and luncheon are included.
RSVP: (561) 276-1715, Carolyn Zimmerman
All proceeds go to the Lightup Delray Beach Holiday Decorating Contest and the Easter Bonnet Stroll. Make checks payable to Carolyn Zimmerman, send check to 212 SW Second Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33444
The lunch will be in Carolyn Zimmerman's garden and the breakfast will be in Ann Koplas' garden. Barbara Cook's garden is on the route.

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