top of page
  • Jennifer Jewell


Max Gill - recalibrating his nervous system with trailing nasturtiums. Photo by Daniel Shipp. All rights reserved.

Flowers for the table are a delight and perhaps never more so than at special occasions. And this time of year, special occasions are lined up like pearls on a festive holiday necklace. Max Gill is a creative floral design force and he joins us this week to talk about his garden and floral design journey and life. For Max - his connection to the garden, and the garden as inspiration for his floral work helps ground him to recalibrate his nervous system and find healing from the challenges of the world. As designer of the weekly flowers at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant for the past decade, Max shares some thoughts for anyone doing flowers for the table. His insights can teach us all a thing or two.

“All temporal arts follow parallel trajectories, so an education and pursuit in one, really sort of organizes your brain and forms your inquiry into another. I’ve found that there’s actually quite a few of the principles that were outlined for us (in theater) that apply to floral design as well.”

Max Gill of Max Gill Design

Berkeley, CA

Max Gill is a gardener and floral designer. After receiving his degree in Environmental Science from UC Berkeley, Max Gill went on to become a floral designer who draws from all of his greatest passions: gardening, sculpture, painting and art and theater history, to create his floral art. Originally from upstate New York, Max has called the Bay Area home for almost 35 years. He is well known for his work at Chez Panisse where he has done the flowers for over a decade. Informed by natural processes, Max’s work is distinguished by his reliance on specialty blooms and botanical rarities gleaned from local growers, his own formidable cut flower garden in North Berkeley, and a long list of bay area nurseries.

“My work is always botanically inspired. What I find most compelling in nature is when plants are struggling to find their place in the environment. As they fight to overcome the challenges of space and light, often surprising us with their juxtaposition, they create beauty through adaptation.”

Max Gill of Max Gill Floral Design

Berkeley, CA

Tomorrow is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere – so for us here, things just get lighter. But don’t rush on to that just yet. I hope this luxurious moment of possibility for quiet, long darkness allows you to take some time to play creatively in your kitchen with flowers, greens, stems, and branches of this season – to reconnect and recalibrate your own nervous system – ballast for the days, weeks – the year - to come.

Happy Solstice – winter or summer – to you all.




For all of you who’ve listened to CP for any amount of time, you’d have to guess that I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to explore the idea of recalibrating our nervous systems. How perfect an articulation is this? In all my years interviewing, reading, writing about the many therapeutic benefits (individual and communal, environmental and aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual) of our deep connections to our gardens, and the many enthralling plants with whom we share this vessel of a planet, I’ve perhaps never absorbed this exact articulation - but ahhh when I heard it, I knew it perfectly captured what happens in these moments. Especially this time of year – my own nervous system is routinely over-firing, inflamed, and very, very tender – and yet when I go into the garden, clip some mint for a steam, cut some evergreen carpet Manzanita for a sprig of green, or even take the compost out on a cold, drizzly morning even, I decompress a little with each interaction. I’ve written this before: My garden as a little curated bridge between me and the larger natural world makes me a better person. How about you?

For all of you that listened last week AND started your homework by sending me a list of your top three new year’s resolutions in the garden or with nature AND sending me any suggestions for good interview series topics on CP in 2019 – thank you! I am loving these – truly inspired. I will look forward to a few more before the month is out (see bottom of post for your homework instructions).

Here were two other threads that stood out for me in our conversation with Max – the concept that struggle brings out greater, more interesting and unique beauty in a flower, a plant, or even us. And, coupled with that the idea of learning to be less self-conscious – more comfortable in our skins so that the natural beauty of what we do and who we are – as we are and always learning – can shine through….I realize – trust me – that these sound like platitudes from a Hallmark Christmas special – but damn – which I can say in a podcast break but not on air - if these overused, under-absorbed, concepts are not true….they are true in our gardens, in our kitchens, in this podcast break – these concepts for better or worse are built into every single step along the way of each of our – yours and my – winding, crazy, creative journey stories – whatever their scale.

It’s just that I can wrestle with these thoughts more meaningfully when I hear them from Max Gill, especially as he relates hearing them for himself– kindly - from Alice Waters.

As I wrestle with struggle and self-consciousness and the hope for growth, I think – good then: how’m I going to put this work into practice? Because they’re related I think – they are for me – how we struggle to get out from behind our own self-conscious personas and grow into the comfortableness of us? I’m working on it – 53 years in, and many, many gardens behind me - I still have plenty to learn ….

Things to look forward to.

Oh and by the way – the thoughts I include in my podcast breaks, including my questions and requests of you all – are always in my weekly episode notes at To make it more clear what and where these are (yes, thank you to those that requested this clarifying format) they are now toward the end of each week’s notes and titled: THINKING OUT LOUD, this week...

Because that’s what these riffs always are – me thinking out loud with you. Thank you for listening – if it’s not clear, I am forever gratified and expanded by being on this journey with you.

In case you need a reminder - here's your homework:

1. I’d really love to hear some of your garden related resolutions for the new year – I will compile some of them into the January 2019 A View From Here newsletter (if you don’t subscribe to the monthly A View From Here Newsletter – go do it!)

2. And right AFTER you subscribe to the newsletter – send me a note with your top three garden themed resolutions for the coming year….

3. For your third Assignment – please send me some thoughts on topics for series you'd like Cultivating Place to dive into for 2019. A handful have crossed my mind – Art/Sculpture Gardens, Botanic Gardens, Herbariums, Native Plant Gardens/Gardeners (from a wide range of places), Indigenous Plants people, Latina/Latino Garden Ways/ Gardeners, Herbalists….the list could go forever I suppose – but what would YOU add to it?

Please let me know – send me an email at cultivating place at, or leave a note on this week’s episode notes at Instagram or Facebook. I’m trying to live up to one of my new year’s resolutions, which is to stay attuned to what you'd like to hear, and I need your help to do it!




Thank you to everyone who has contributed this year! We simply could not produce this program without your help.

Cultivating Place is a listener-supported co-production of North State Public Radio.

To make your tax-deductible listener contribution – please click the donate button below.

Thank you in advance for your help making these valuable conversations grow.

Or, make checks payable to: North State Public Radio - Cultivating Place

with Cultivating Place in the memo line, too

mail to: California State University, Chico

400 W. First Street

Chico, CA 95929-0999

bottom of page