June 10, 2024
By the plants you see, you can “read” how Pat Cook’s garden has grown over the years

by Mary Reid Barrow

Photos by Dana Gauthier and Pat Cook

By the plants you see, you can “read” how Pat Cook’s Garden grew, from virtually no garden, to traditional garden, to native garden.

When Pat and husband, James Cook, purchased their Thoroughgood home on a 1½ acre lot in 1997, there were trees, lots of green lawn, foundation plants around the house, hedges around the perimeter and a “ring of azaleas” in front,” she said.

“My husband said, ‘You wanted a garden. I bought you a blank slate!’”

You can see for yourself how Pat transformed her blank slate over the past 25 years, into a delightful native plant garden that still allows room for old established plants. Her yard will be on Lynnhaven River NOW’s Native Plant Tour from 9 a.m. to noon on June 28.

On this self-guided tour, you also can visit a windswept garden of hardy natives at Westminster Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay and a sweet small space garden in Cape Story by the Sea. All three gardens have their own stories of how they evolved into native plant havens.

Pat’s began when she took a Virginia Beach Master Gardener Class in the early 2000’s. Then traditional gardening wisdom was all about flowers and trees our grandmothers had and/or beauties found in Europe and Asia.

A good example are the crinum lilies loved for centuries by southerners. Pat said she still treasures her lilies known as “hand-me-down plants.”

Pat’s work demands as Head of Information Services at the Virginia Beach Central Library prevented her from completing the Master Gardener requirements, though she continued to garden in her spare time.

A decade later, she retook the Master Gardener course and completed the requirements in 2015. Then the world was becoming inspired by “creating natural habitats and pollinator gardens and by Doug Tallamy (author of “Bringing Nature Home”).”

Pat began her transition to natives, loving such plants as her beautiful coral honeysuckle vine, a Mecca for hummingbirds, to her bed for “itty-bitty” spring plants like trillium, Jack-in-the pulpit and Dutchman’s breeches.

“I keep what I have and put in more,” she said. “I don’t tear out any plants, but I replace them with natives when they die.”

To make room for natives, she expands her beds by laying bags of topsoil and mulch around the perimeters in winter to kill the grass. Then she creates more beds, “blank slates,” in front of traditional flowers and shrubs and starts planting.

“I’m not real fussy,” Pat said. “I just put them in and then if they don’t do well, I move them.”

Her yard is a rainbow of colors. In spring you will find the likes of yellow tickseed coreopsis and golden Alexander, white Lynnhaven carpet, blue spiderwort, blue-eyed grass, and coral bells. Summer brings on bright red monarda, pinkish coneflowers and Joe Pye weed, yellow black-eyed Susans and more. From early spring to fall, butterflies and other insects make themselves at home.

A “secret garden” on the side of the house is surrounded by little native trees, such as chokecherry, service berry and dogwood, with small native shrubs, like sweet spire, underneath. Bird feeders of all descriptions are in the center and wood duck mamas bring their babies up from Lake Charles to feed, Pat said.

Out back a stand of sassafras trees is part of the wooded hillside leading to Lake Charles. Tucked back among the trees, you might see native flame azaleas and rhododendrons. A swimming pool on the other side of the yard is surrounded by plants too.

To see how Pat’s blank slate has grown and to see the other gardens on LRNow’s Native Garden Tour, visit: LRNow’s Event Page.


PEARL HOMES are places where people care about our environment and want to do what they can to help protect our resources.

Learn more»

Lynnhaven River NOW recognizes schools providing outstanding environmental education as a Pearl School.

Learn More»

PEARL BUSINESSES are essential to truly move towards a more sustainable Virginia Beach and cleaner waters.

Learn More »

We all want to do our part to restore the health of all of our sacred waterways and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

Learn More»

SUSTAINABLE YARDS PROGRAM: Let us help you “green” your Lynnhaven watershed home. This unique program provides specific stormwater management practices to your yard at a significantly reduced cost to you.

Learn More»