PLANT COLLECTORS do not often have well-designed gardens. The urge to grow one of everything works tragically counter to landscape design principles — for example, the idea that repetition allows a viewer to “rest the eye.’’ Yet Paul Cook has managed to create a garden that is various but harmonious. His collection of well-tended things has melded into a place, one full of mystery and delight.
A modest man, Cook makes light of the effort and know-how required to keep hundreds of different kinds of plants happy. “Sometimes I actually stand in the middle of it all and almost wonder how it all even happened,’’ he says. In fact, it takes hundreds of hours of effort to groom a garden that’s as meticulously put together as a high-end restaurant at the start of the dinner service. The luxurious stands of tall orienpet lilies that are the beacons of his July garden require diligent patrolling in April and May to squish the orange eggs that lily leaf beetles lay on the undersides of leaves. Most gardeners have abandoned these tall lilies for look-alike day lilies, which the beetles don’t eat. Not Paul Cook. He just gets up earlier.
Cook is a Quincy booster. His late grandparents John and Hazel Fruth built the brick-front garrison Colonial on a 7,500-square-foot corner lot on Penns Hill back when the city still had farms. Cook has lived there since he was 9. “Sometimes when I tell people I live in Quincy they make a face. But you can get to anywhere easily from here, and I have the greatest neighbors,” plus “I have gorgeous sunsets.’’
The garden along the side street is a mini-arboretum. Rare woody plants include a dwarf ginkgo tree, purple-leaved ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’, ‘Royal Frost’ purple-leaf birch, and ‘Julia Child,’ perhaps the best yellow rose ever. A path leads through this bed, past a 1930s lamppost, and through a metal gate into the hidden backyard where a series of outdoor rooms unfolds. The first is designed around a concrete copy of the statue on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, birdseed proffered in the two dishes. Farther down the path a tent heated by an outdoor wood-burning chiminea offers a cozy spot to (finally) rest. “I like to sit there with a glass of wine,” says Cook, “and focus on how beautiful everything looks.”