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  • Jennifer Jewell


You know that bar at the top of your digital screens (especially on photo apps) that allows you to zoom in and out at will - either looking at the whole view or a tiny portion of it? This is how the month of July was for me - a free and far ranging adventure figuratively moving up and down this kind of bar - exercising my own capacity (willingness and adeptness) at zooming in and out on various aspects of this gardening and natural history life. An expansive forest and a good many of its beautiful trees kind of month. Our eyes of course make these kind of wide-angle-panoramic and back to close-up-detail kinds of adjustments on the fly all day every day - able to include and grasp the whole horizon and many of its detailed component parts. It's keeping my mind and heart this flexible that can necessitate more conscious effort. The month literally started off for me traveling with my good (and gardening) friend Mary Ginno to Seattle, Washington July 1 - 2 for the first annual Slow Flowers Summit, in celebration of American Flowers Week. Conceived of and hosted by Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers, LLC, this convening of floral designers, flower farmers and floral creatives & thinkers from around the country was just as described: a "floral mind meld" of positive proactive creativity expanding the common dialogue about and encouraging a reimagining of what we (all of us) want the floral industry and its leaders to look like, to model, to strive for. (If you like a good plant-life based podcast, check out Debra's Slow Flowers Podcast).

The middle of the month found me and my girls on the rocky coast of Rhode Island enjoying extended family, trying to avoid ticks and endure a level of humidity to which we are not accustomed. Ahhh, but this specific coastal climate and its nicer climatic consorts (like warm morning fog, humidity and fireflies) of course allow for and celebrate a whole other world of plants and gardens than my interior Northern California life. I was graciously hosted at several private and public gardens: an annual pilgrimage to Blithewold Gardens and Arboretum with Gail Read (including a behind the scenes peek into the impressive archives where the research, cataloging and conservation of collections takes place), a visit to Hans and Darka's beautifully designed home and collector's garden, another to Sakonnet Garden, the sophisticated home garden/wildmeadow habitat/passion project of John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli, and, finally a visit to the greenhouses of Ed Bowen of Opus Plants - a "nano-nursery" of "unusual and garden-worthy" cultivations. The end of the month found me back on home ground, and a little north. John Whittlesey and I traveled north to Weed to participate in the Eriogonum Society's annual conference on the study and enjoyment of this western dryland genus of plants - also known as the wild buckwheats. John presented on pollination and pollinators of this genus, and I (kind of) helped on a garden panel. Most fun, we went on three days of botanical field trips with the larger group.

An outing with the field botanists (some professional, some amateur) was an experience unto itself. It went a little like this: arrive one way or another at a location of some known diversity in this genus. This could be a gravel roadside turn-around (looking like it's most frequently used by trucks, or as our field trip leader noted, used by teenagers on the weekend), or it could be a steeply sloping alpine mountainside with sweeping views of row after row of rocky western mountain ranges. Your group spreads our across the area, efficiently surveying for plants - in bloom, in seed, some so subtle as to be invisible, others all decked out in colorful bloom and almost whistling: "Over here, over here!"

Eventually, one person might say something like: "Oh, what's this one?!" and some enthusiastic subsection of the group gathers round. They look, they consider, they might take a photo, and ultimately, they select a specimen, or three, including stem, branching, foliage, flowers (past or present), seed (present or forming), they sit down in a circle right where they are, at least one of them pulls out "the key" (either a sheaf of papers or a dauntingly large and heavy hard bound book). They grasp their hand lens loupes from where they are having from lanyards around their necks, and putting these lenses right up to their eye and pulling the specimen in close, they begin describing in specific language the minute details of what they can see deep inside the flowers, foliage and seeds of these specimens. This is how knowledge of species is confirmed, expanded, updated. This attention to detail is how we can track patterns of change, describe new species, and better understand the complexity of the world around us.

But before I bore you to sleep with my email version of the dreaded "what I did on my summer vacation slide show" (I might already be guilty of this, sorry), let me try to pull this back full circle. When I step back and look at my month in overview, what I see is this: A gathering of bright, fun caring people considering and steering a global plant- based industry in a new direction. A handful of creative and caring home gardeners and horticulturists pouring their talents into their own pieces of ground and making one township/region an energetic garden community destination for others to learn from. And, finally an astoundingly intelligent group of botanists observing and compiling the smallest of details in order to create the larger ecological, biodiversity and climate overview from which we can make myriad more informed decisions on global scales.

The similarities between the botanists looking through their lenses at tiny flower parts, and great ship captains of old scanning the oceans' horizons in search of land, or modern astronomers gazing into the galaxies in the dark of night in order to gain a greater sense of our own place as well as to gain insight as to with whom and what we are traveling, are not lost on me. From such accumulated observation, information, passion and expanding knowledge perhaps there is hopeful re-orientation forward. I was trying to describe this diversity of inspirational people in the plant world to a friend and she nodded her head and explained simply: "They're your people." And I thought, Yep.

They're all of our people.

For more of our people and their stories, the links to the Cultivating Place programs in July is just below. Looking forward to August.

Warmly, Jennifer

Top: Field botanists Heidi, Beth and Margaret at their work describing and attempting to locate an eriogonum specimen within the existing dichotomous key to the genus. Bottom: Lighthouse Beach, Little Compton, RI.



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