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  • Jennifer Jewell


Leslie Bennett, Founder and Principal Designer Pine House Edible Gardens, Oakland, CA


I went away for a few days in late August to take my eldest daughter to her first year of college, an exciting and heartbreaking moment. When I came home, I found my lovely redbud tree completely defoliated. Completely. The little golden and striped caterpillars I had noticed just the week before had been very busy. My tree was not alone in this experience; neighbor trees on both sides of me had suffered the same. There's not much I am squeamish about but a leaf vibrating with the energy of being devoured by squirming little larva is one of those things that elicits a seriously cringy EWWW reaction from me. Even though I know it is an important part of the healthy food chain. And since I am not a sprayer, control of such things means living with it, or picking and squishing to maintain balance till the predators arrive. Squishing is, I know: EWWW. It can sometimes be satisfying, but can also just be EWWW.

Funny thing is that with the redbud's foliage gone, I could really see the fresh green of the lemongrass planted behind - put there in an effort to brighten and soften a fence corner. Seeing the lemongrass reminded us to use it in a new recipe John wanted to try. The yin and yang of the redbud and the lemongrass strikes me as a small example of how the whole month of August felt to me.

August 2017: Cultivating Place is awarded two gold medals (Best Overall Broadcast Media AND Best On-Air Talent) at the annual Garden Writers Association meeting in Buffalo, NY; Protests in Charlottesville, Virginia; I take my eldest daughter to her first year of college (in, of all places, Virginia); Solar Eclipse over North America; Cultivating Place publishes new website; Hurricane Harvey.

Top: Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty' - dizzying and delicate in its late summer pollen patterning.

Bottom: A mountain meadow, late summer Sierra Nevada. Native hyssop, castilleja, corn lily, yampa and grasses.

Let me be clear: I am in no way equating a redbud, a broadcasting honor or a website with cultural upheaval and resistance against entrenched racism or other pernicious social ills, with the machinations of the galaxy, or with the devastating force of a climate-change-fueled hurricane.

I am though, in that way we humans are apt to do, trying to wrap my tiny brain around the crazy pendulum swings in any given month (day, year, life, garden) between "fortunately, unfortunately" (a well-loved book I used to read to my girls), on any scale - personal or global.

The "good" and the "bad" ebb and flow, and are concepts that in themselves should be suspect to some degree.

My experience supports this as I am sure yours does as well, right? An event may be painful - excruciating and destructive - in the moment, while its larger and longer consequences can be so very, very different: awakening and expanding even. For example, my mother died of cancer at the age of 55 after 16 years battling breast cancer. She was a lifelong passionate gardener who believed in the Tao of Compost if anyone did.

Above: Spirit of volunteerism: ok this may not be what people mean when they say "spirit of volunteerism" but I'm loving the quirky arrangements created by self seeded Salvia fructicosa, bouteloua grass and lobelia in my front courtyard. I'll take these volunteers. Sometimes it's about working with what the universe offers.

Her death was a terrible, terrible loss that I didn't understand and still can't reconcile, but this I know: I am a kinder, bigger, deeper and more thoughtful (albeit imperfect and flawed) woman in this world as a result of this loss.

One of the constants that the garden (and Nature's gardens) offers me (over and over again, hoping I'll get it one day) are lessons on recurring patterns and diversity. And regeneration, in time.

In my Cultivating Place Interview with Fran Sorin earlier this year, she offered the insight that "our gardens are mirrors to our selves and our souls" and more recently, in the CP interview with Cindy Brown of Smithsonian Gardens, she offered: "We can learn lessons in the garden we are unable or unwilling to learn or even acknowledge elsewhere." I couldn't agree more.

Death, disease, devastation and forces seemingly completely out of balance all come to our gardens - routinely - leaving their scars, but just as inevitably, defenses down, so too do beauty, abundance, and balance - offering both growth and perspective. I witness gardeners cultivate and pay these latter elements forward every single day, celebrating the OHHH factor of flowers, fruit, friends, fresh air and small moments of transcendence, rather than the EWWW or worse factors.

Lessons to take notes on, to take interest in and be inspired by, I think. To appreciate and revel in if at all possible. Really revel in.

OHHH, welcome September,




8/30/17 Radical Activism: Culture & Gardens, Leslie Bennett, Pine House Edible Gardens

8/24/17 "Land on Fire" - Gary Ferguson

8/17/17 "Big Dreams, Small Garden" - Marianne Willburn

8/10/17 Dispatches: Emily Wilkins, Seattle, WA

8/3/17 "The Thoughtful Gardener" - Jinny Blom


Above: Elemental - the land, sea and sky at Inverness, CA.

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