RADICAL ACTIVISM: CULTURE & GARDENS - LESLIE BENNETT, PINE HOUSE EDIBLE GARDENS
This month of August, we've curated a series of 4 Best Of episodes of Cultivating Place. Some for their timeliness, others for their evergreen resonance within us as gardeners and humans (and as such, advocates and potential architects for change in our world).
My first is with a woman whose work I am constantly inspired and given hope by. When I last spoke with Leslie Bennett, she was plenty busy with good work with Pine House Edible Gardens. In the meantime, she has been up to even more good work, which is ever more needed. Her work has been lauded nationwide in Garden Design, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunset and Martha Stewart Living - all of which I celebrate enthusiastically. It is though, her work on her long time dream of creating Black Sanctuary Gardens right in her own hometown of Oakland that moves me beyond words.
This BEST OF episode and conversation were already in the works when the news of the murder of Nia Wilson, a beautiful, young black woman just getting started in her life, and the attempted murder of her sister, Lahtifa, on an Oakland BART platform hit the news this last month.
Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color and their communities are at enormous and grossly disproportionate risk for hate crime violence perpetrated against them - most often by the dominant white culture. Acts of violence and hate this this highlight - horrifically and again - the need for attention and awareness and change in our world and culture. The need for support and listening and action toward dismantling and calling out and pushing back against any and all cultural structures (including those embedded in our own minds and days) that perpetuate a dominant culture that allows this kind of violence, that shrugs its shoulders and says "that's just the way it is", or perhaps worst of all is just silent in the face of it.
Odd as it may seem, I believe every home gardener in every community across this planet has the power to play a part in a cultural shift for the positive for BIPOC and all lives and organisms who are not served well by the dominant culture.
Leslie Bennett is a gardener and woman who does just this and her story - one of intersection, contrasts and deeply curious reflection is a brilliant model of several ways forward. Here are her words on the new project - and I very much hope you enjoy this Best of Conversation with Leslie Bennett.
See Photo Above: "My new project, Black Sanctuary Gardens, is about organizing for places of respite and beauty that celebrate and support our black community. In creating our first publicly accessible garden space at The Alena Museum in West Oakland, I'm collaborating with local artists Elizabeth D. Foggie and Seven Asefaha to center black and POC experience, aligning our energies to work with the land and our plant allies to feed the soul and feed the fight for justice -- here in Oakland and everywhere. If you haven't already, please find more info and DONATE today at www.blacksanctuarygardens.com. Our first Black Sanctuary Garden will be a publicly accessible, aesthetic, edible, culturally grounded garden installation that serves as restorative plant-based space for the peace, self-care and inspiration of the black community.
This is a vision I’ve held close for several years now — I am so excited for the opportunity to create garden space that reflects and supports our specific experiences and heritage as people of color and that offers sanctuary for black people to commune, converse, collaborate, heal, reflect and be nourished. We have received an East Bay Community Foundation matching grant for our first garden installation and are launching our matching donation campaign with our community today!
Leslie Bennett is the founder and owner of Pine House Edible Gardens in Oakland, CA. Her garden designs earn national recognition, most recently gracing the pages of Garden Design and Better Homes & Gardens. Her garden design work and her business management both draw on her background in environmental law, cultural property and social justice. She believes deeply in our gardens representing our cultural heritages and informing our futures.
She writes: "For me, edible landscapes are a long term relationship, where my clients get to have all kinds of fun, seasonal experiences in their gardens and kitchens. My specific focus is on designing and building stylized vegetable and cutting flower gardens -- in other words, working gardens that happen to have beautiful structural design.”
She continues:" it's so important and exciting that, as my business has become more established, I've been able to recruit gardeners of color as staff, and been able to take on interns of color and train them to be lead gardeners on my team." She’s also have been able to reach out to and take on more people of color as clients, regardless of their budgets. Her ability to do more of this is growing as her business does.
"My own home garden is one of the best examples of a cultural landscape, I spent time
thinking about it in terms of: I'm going to spend time here with my 2 year old son,
and what do I want him to know about who he is and what he comes from?"
Her real goal with "this is not around 'diversity' in and of itself but rather around the fact that gardens and gardening and just plain old natural beauty have been so important for her own happiness and joy," and she understands her work as "helping to make those joys more available to everybody, and especially black people and people of color.”
The daughter of an English mother and a Jamaican father, Leslie has studied law, cultural property and farming in the US, England and Jamaica. In our interview, she shares her journey learning how to marry cultural diversity to gardens of beauty and meaning, gardens that reflect her values as an environmental and cultural property lawyer and activist but which also speak to her goal of designing beautiful and functional gardens for a wide variety of people and reasons. With a Jamaican-born husband, a two year old son, and knowledgeable, passionate views about the importance of cultural heritage, Leslie navigates these marriages of beauty, function, and cultural property in all her garden work.
Leslie proudly runs her garden design business out of and lives in Oakland with her husband, Linval Owens and their 2 year old son, Samuel. She is the co-author along with Stefani Bittner of "The Beautiful Edible Garden," published in 2013.
As we head into a season of harvest, Leslie speaks to this week via Skype from her offices in Oakland, CA.
To learn more and hear more from Leslie, follow her on Instagram @pinehouseediblegardens. Leslie was also the guest of Debra Prinzing, founder of the Slow Flowers Movement, on her podcast, click here to listen.