Alleyne & Barbara CookWednesday, June 14, 2006
It was around noon on June 2, 1953 when my mother told me to wash my hands and knees ( I was 9, I wore short pants.) in preparation for lunch. At the risk of being spanked with a chinela (an old Spanish word for slipper) I told her that I couldn't because I was listening to the coronation of "my queen" on our living room radio. In my Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Coghlan I was known as "el inglesito" or the little English boy. On June 1, in Winkfield Village, in Berkshire, a young New Zealand gardener was busy cutting flowers. He was one of only two men, who worked at Winkfield Place, a school for well to do girls run by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume. Constance Spry had been comissioned by Buckingham Palace to make all the floral arrangements that were to line the street from the Palace to Westminster Abbey which was to be the coronation ruite on the next day. Flowers had to be cut for the arrangements to decorate the inside of the Abbey, too. Rosemary Hume, the cooking side of Winkfield Place was brainstorming with her students to come up with a recipe to feed some of the dignitaries. The result, Coronation Chicken, will never be in the same menu with Peach Melba.
I feel privileged to have Barbara and Alleyne Cook as friends. Both are in their 80s. They live in North Vancouver and have one of the most interesting and eclectic gardens around. While Alleyne is an expert on rhododendrons (he planted many of the specimens, some very large, in Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen because he worked for the Parks Board for many years) he knows more about magnolias than anybody else I know. And when Alleyne is quiet (this is a rare occasion) Barbara is no slouch herself on plant knowledge. Both, of course, speak with impeccable botanical nomenclature. speak with that Christchurch, New Zealand accent so that "yes" manages to have two syllables. They would still be traveling to places they love to explore exotic flora, like Russia, Iran or Africa except that they find it difficult to pay the obligatory travel/health insurance that runs in the thousands for both of them.
When I am stumped with a botanical question I call the Cooks. They always have an intelligent answer even if my question is stupid.
Barbara is crazy about modern dance and ballet. When there are performances at the Vancouver Dance Centre, Alleyne drives her to the Sea Bus. She takes the bus to Granville and Davie. Rebecca, she and I enjoy the dance. Before I drive her to the Sea Bus whe have coffee at the nearby Blenz and discuss the performance.
One of the most glorious roses in my garden is a huge unknown rose called Rosa 'Complicata' which is sometimes classified as a Gallica. A few years ago Alleyne showed up at my door with a little pot with a small rose. He placed it at my feet and said, "If you are going to have one rose, Complicata (top right) is the one. Here it is."
Perhaps I should ask him if Constance Spry had Complicata in her garden and if he cut any for those arrangements for Queen Elizabeth II, my queen.