COVENTRY, Conn. — Since the death of famed herbalist Adelma Grenier Simmons, her Connecticut farm that once drew visitors by the busload has fallen into disrepair, with green tarps covering parts of the roof on the 18th century house and the perennial gardens overgrown.
Her estate faults her widower, Edward Cook, who is now fighting a judge’s order to vacate the farm in Coventry by Sunday.
“I think it’s a tragedy,” said Cook, an 81-year-old science professor who denies the allegations against him.
Simmons, who was credited with reintroducing and popularizing the use of herbs in American cooking in the mid-20th century, died in 1997 at age 93. A prolific author, Simmons published more than 50 books and pamphlets. Her “Herb Gardening in Five Seasons,” first published in 1964, is still considered to be the standard reference for herb farming.
Visitors to her gardens were treated to “mystery” lunches made with herbs and edible flowers that she identified only after everyone was done eating. She envisioned her 62-acre (25-hectare) “Caprilands” farm in Coventry would be maintained after her death for the enjoyment of generations to come.
A lawyer overseeing the estate argues that Cook has failed to maintain the farm and to adhere to the conditions in Simmons’ will, which called for the establishment of a charitable organization that would maintain it and run educational programs for the public there.
Cook is urging a state judge in Rockville to extend the eviction date as he appeals the eviction order to the state Appellate Court. It’s not clear when the Appellate Court will rule. A court hearing in the eviction case was scheduled for Friday.
Cook, who was married to Simmons for about four years when she died, bought a house in New Britain last year, so he is not in danger of being left homeless. He said he is at the farm daily to feed the animals, which include a flock of Scottish blackface sheep and a horse.
The farmhouse is filled with Simmons’ belongings, including sets of china, furniture and books. There’s also water and ceiling damage in an adjoining greenhouse, which is now cluttered with car seats, wooden benches, tools and other items.
Outside, some fencing has fallen. But Cook said the perennial herb gardens, although overgrown, remain intact.
Cook’s current legal battles began in 2017 after a lawyer, George Purtill, was appointed to oversee Simmons’ estate. Since Purtill’s appointment, court rulings have removed Cook as executor of Simmons’ estate, terminated his lifetime tenancy rights, frozen $400,000 of his assets and ordered him evicted. Cook is appealing those decisions.
Court records show Cook also faces more than $300,000 in contempt-of-court fines for failing to allow town officials to inspect the property. The fines are $1,000 per day and date back to December 2017.
Cook said he did set up a non-profit group, Caprilands Institute, in 2007, but an agreement between it and trustees for the property has been elusive because of liability concerns among some of the group’s directors.
He also believes his legal problems are part of a conspiracy to oust him and sell the property for a multimillion-dollar development, which Purtill denies. Cook said if he loses his appeals, he may file a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages.
“The intent is to destroy me so that they can get the property,” said Cook, who only described “they” as “any number of people.”
Simmons’ grandson, Nelson Simmons, who lives in upstate New York, said he is hopeful the property can be restored after the court cases are settled.
“Her legacy was the herb gardens, the lecture hall, promoting the legends and the stories of the herbs,” he said. “That’s what’s been lost is her legacy. I think everybody’s hearts are in the right place. Everyone I talk to speaks highly of Caprilands and restoring its grandeur. Just getting to that point seems to be a difficult path.”
Dave Collins, The Associated Press