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  • Jennifer Jewell


Emily Murphy - growing what she loves. Photos courtesy of Emily Murphy, used by permission.



"Grow what you love", it’s advice we’re given early in our gardening adventures as to how to choose what to plant, to tend and to pray over. Grow the food you love to eat, grow the flowers you love to look at or smell. Grow what you love is also the name of a new book, out now from Firefly Books, written by Emily Murphy, a Northern Californian gardener, mother, educator, trail runner and blogger known for her work under the name Passthepistil.

Emily is an organic gardener with a BS in Ethnobotanical Resources from Humboldt State University where she studied botany, environmental science, and ecology as well as religious and cultural studies, and herbal medicine. She later studied garden design with the California School of Garden Design, and worked as a classroom teacher and school garden educator. She teaches and speaks regularly about gardening and living. Here photography, cooking, and weekly thoughts can be found in her blog, which celebrates life, gardening and growing in all its forms.

At some point in her educational, gardening and writing life, Emily was struck by a feeling of having gone off course a little. And a need to be more intentional with her time, her energy and her own growing. She writes: “I had an irking feeling I needed to live my life with greater intention and to look and choose where I wanted to go…. focus on the things you’d like to grow and you’ll grow more of them. So, why not focus on the things you love?”

Pass the Pistil is a a play of words using the female parts of a flower and the idea that we all need to keep taking action, keep moving forward. For Emily it literally means “..grow what you love and pass it on. Quite literally, passing on the flower and the plants you grow, whether it’s giving seeds to a neighbor or sharing your harvest with family and friends. In the process, we nurture ourselves, our families, our health, and our communities. We grow our lives.”

"I think we all have that impulse to plant something that overtakes you, even if there are those who don’t think they can grow anything for fear of killing it or for fear of forgetting about or ignoring it, we ALL have this opportunity to grow. And the way I see it, as long as it can hold soil and has drainage - you have a garden.”

- Emily Murphy

She currently gardens in three distinct garden areas: container on her porch overlooking the ocean, a nearby neglected fenced raised bed garden on her neighbor’s property and in a community garden plot – each has its own distinct climate, exposure and soil – in each of these she follows her own advice to Grow what you love.


Grow what you love, grow what you love, grow what you love.

What do you love? That can be the hard part. Ok, I don’t love okra. Let’s start there. Not growing okra.

But I love lettuces, and carrots and peas and herbs – all herbs – they can be thuggish, but between their edible and scented and often medicinal foliage or roots or seeds or flowers, they are also almost always really resilient, disease resistant and pollinator magnets. I must have 6 different perennial oreganos. Their flowers are amazing.

I am also really into any plants that produce a good tea or essential oil for aromatherapeutic purposes – maybe after speaking with Blanca Diaz of Mama Maiz a few weeks ago. This is exactly what Emily Murphy is talking about when she mentions "multitasking plants" - plants that serve multiple purposes in our gardens. I also love narcissus, which are just ending where I live as I write, and I love Ribes, Salvias and buckwheats or Eriogonums – both just getting started for the long summer season here and all three of which are top habitat plants for local wildlife, wonderfully aromatic, great cut flowers, and shapely personalities in the garden's design.

As Emily points out – to follow this concept of Growing What You Love is either an ah ha moment or a – "um ok, duh" – moment. Because sometimes we all fall for it – we hear or read or see what other people are doing and we go along. “Now is the time to plant – xy and z” some gardening "authority" might dictate. But if we don’t love xy and z, then who cares when it’s time to plant it?

Our time, attention and environmental resources are limited and our gardens should be places of comfort and joy, maybe some fun experimentation, and a lot of providing for life beyond ours – in the soil and in the environment.

But I don't think it should yell at us and it should not shame or "should" on us. So don’t plant okra or tomatoes or lima beans if you don’t want to eat those things. As Emily reminds us: "Grow what you love and you will find your garden growing you."

Having grown up with a gardening mother and wildlife biologist father, seasonal plant-based rituals were big in our family and they are big in our culture writ large – spring perhaps being exceptional on this front.

Lent, the equinox, Easter, Passover, my mother’s birthday, my mother’s death day, May Day and may baskets, these are dates that fill out the calendar of March and April in my personal life. When Emily says in the course of our conversation that “my growing now really honors my family” I took special note. This sentence really filled out the concept of what we love and why we love it.

This is a layered and highly personal concept: my mother held a generous bunch of lilies of the valley in her June wedding to my father – so lilies of the valley hold special importance in my family life; buckwheats and salvias are among my favorite native plants of northern California and so these hold special import and place in my garden. This idea of cultural and personal significance for anyone is one of the functions that gardens and their chosen plants offer.

I think we all love the stories that a well loved garden tells about its people and its place. What narratives does your garden embody? Are they the ones you want your garden to tell? Early spring is as good a time as any to consider this – a time of rebirth, transformation and looking forward.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’re moved to share – send me a note on the contact form here, and sign up for the monthly A View From Here "viewsletter" to stay in touch, or leave a comment on today’s program post on Instagram and Facebook.

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