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  • Jennifer Jewell





This week on Cultivating Place, we revisit a conversation with a home gardener who has moved not just gardens, but continents and hemispheres. As we are near the height of sunlight following our summer solstice, she just passed her winter solstice. She shares a gardening story of learning, community and adaptability. Pen Pender is a gardener, mother, wife, voracious reader, community activist, bee keeper, cook and novice potter living near Mt. Macedon in Victoria, Australia.

In late June, every year, we as gardeners and lovers of the great outdoors experience one of the cardinal moments of the seasonal year – a moment when time seems to hesitate for one split second and ease just slightly in its growing, reaching and building up. Like that moment at the very fullness of the inhale of a deep cleansing breath - BREATH IN the pause – and then energetic shift on the other side where the exhale begins. That is the summer solstice for me in the garden. You can feel life reaching toward it in anticipation and then just on the other side, you can feel ever so slightly a sense of – the next energetic cycle taking over. It’s a moment so very different but remarkably similar in every place I have ever cultivated. It is a moment where it is very clear that while we each garden/hike/bond with specific places, we are also very much cultivating the same place – this great generous bountiful spinning planet we know as Mother Earth.

I have always had gardening family and friends flung far and wide, but it’s perhaps never felt more true than now with the last decade’s advent and my far more recent embrace of an online gardening community through social media.

As I post pictures of my rudbeckia and buckwheats, my sunsets over oak woodlands and the rising activity and chatter of the acorn woodpeckers or chrysalid of pipevine swallowtail butterflies - both endemic to my place in Northern California - another gardening friend is sharing photos of Rudbeckia in Maine, another of unrelenting rain in the mid-west, and another is posting photos of her late winter/early spring harvest and bakes and plans in Victoria, Australia – all the way around the world from me, and yet we are both digging into the same soil in some way – connected from a great distance.

Victoria Australia is a full 17 hours ahead of me here in Northern California, and is situated in the southern and eastern hemispheres. As a whole, Australia is the world’s longest island and its smallest continent.

Victoria, Australia experienced the very hot, the very dry and the very wet - their average annual rainfall is about 25 inches. By comparison, in my summer-dry and hot, and winter-wet, Mediterranean-like climate here in interior Northern California, our average annual rainfall (distributed between the months of Nov and April) is about 26 inches. In her summer, my winter, when my Australia gardening friend speaks of 40 degrees Celsius, this translates to about 104 degrees Farenheit. Over the past month of our summer, we've experienced more days over 100 than most Julys previous.

It is this home gardening friend from the far side of the world who joined us via Skype to share her journey.

Shared realities like this remind me forcefully that while I cultivate my place and you cultivate yours – in our broadest understanding of these terms we are ALL cultivating the same shared ground on generous and abundant planet. There are moments in the seasons when we are more aware than others that we are all riding on, and digging into one shared planet. For me the seasonal solstices and equinoxes rank high in encouraging this awareness. I might be here and you might be WAYYYYYYY over there, but when it comes right down to it we are in this together. You look up at the same sun and moon and stars, I dig down into the same soil and water as you tap into it.

You can keep up with Pen, her garden, her happy bees, her voracious reading and her delicious baking along with travels, family and general artistry on Instagram @penpender.


As this Best Of episode airs, I've recently had a wonderful visit to the city of Portland, Oregon. There I got to meet up with great garden folk from around the region – I presided (yes, I'm the president) over two days of board meetings with the Pacific Horticulture Society and got to visit some inspiring gardens public and private – I communed with plant people, met native bees flies and butterflies of Portland and met new plants to me – most of which declined to come home with me. Haha – there’s a world of climate difference between my home in Northern California and just 8 hours north. But for me the take away was not different than this conversation with Pen: we are all in this together.

Most of the people I interacted with were gardeners – they like to talk plant lust and container envy and new garden books, but conversation went so much bigger much of the time – they wanted to talk climate change (as fires are burning across southern Oregon and Northern CA), they wanted to talk summer dry, resource appropriate gardening ways, they wanted to talk about building community through gardening across political, socioeconomic and cultural divides; they wanted to share why they garden and the wellbeing gardens bring to all communities. They wanted to talk about why gardening matters and how to make it matter in the positive ever more creatively.

That’s my big hope and dream – to keep preaching the gospel of the garden and keep sharing voices that embody that. It’s at the heart of why I garden. And I think it’s at the heart of why you – and Pen Pender - gardens too… It’s #quantumgardening at its best.

So, while Sarah and I are taking our August break to rest a little and to think BIG – I have questions for you all.


1. What do you love most about Cultivating Place?

2. And what would you like to see us do better? Talk about more? Talk about differently?

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send responses directly to us by email cultivating place or as a comment on this week’s program post at Instagram or facebook.

If we are going to keep growing, it’s only going to be with your help and input.

And I figure if you are still listening or reading at this point - right now, then you are one of our people and as such – you the person whose thoughts and hopes and requests and critiques we NEED.

Cause as I said earlier – we really are all in this together. Thank you in advance. I’m really humbled and happy you are here.

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