As a child Ann Barklow was already putting together bugs and business in her backyard garden, where she would collect caterpillars for pennies from her father.
"I always had a fondness for them," said Barklow. "They were never something bad or something to get rid of."
So it's no surprise that as an adult she would launch a landscape design business. To recognize Barklow's dedication to reducing pesticides and establishing drought-tolerant, organic gardening, VOICE presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Environmental Hero Award on April 17, five days before Earth Day.
"She has really become a true leader in our community and does it with passion and energy and compassion toward animals, people and the environment," said Kaye Sherbak, president of VOICE, a Manhattan Beach-based organization that educates people about the environment.
After starting Garden Magic Co. in 1985, Barklow realized the harmful effects of pesticides when she accidentally sprayed a cat. As the cat ran away to lick itself, Barklow cried and wondered how many other animals she was harming with the pesticides.
Soon she found ways to control pests without toxic chemicals. When people doubted that there were effective alternatives to using pesticides, she researched the issue and educated gardeners on safe options.
"I didn't care if I lost [business] or if I got fired for taking care of people's gardens. I kept pursuing it, and I realized that you can do it," Barklow said of pesticide-free garden care.
Her activism spurred projects that have changed the face of her community, including establishing the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden, creating a pesticide-free zone in Hermosa Beach, teaching lessons at the botanical garden and advocating for preserving tree canopies during city construction.
"Every bit of her is an environmentalist, but she's also very rational," said Gretchen Renshaw, who worked with Barklow to found and expand the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden. "She is very persevering."
Barklow has been so committed to her projects and her clients that she has not had enough time to fully design her own garden or to add all the bold colors and flowers and plants that inspire her.
But plans for a new garden are in the works. Barklow and her husband Steven will be moving in May to Greenwood, SC, to retire and tend more than an acre of land. There, she'll have plenty of room for a vegetable garden and some new bugs—fire ants—to research and understand. It will be a challenge, she said, but she's determined to find environmentally friendly and sustainable ways to keep the bugs in check.
"There's more bugs and bigger ones there. I guess I'm ready for that. I'm going to go where the real bugs are," Barklow said, laughing.
There is a women's prison not far from the house in Greenwood, and Barklow dreams of setting up gardens there to teach the women how to nurture nature.
After the women are released, "They can actually grow their own food and work for a living by taking care of the gardens," Barklow said. "Peace and serenity is what I hope to bring to them."