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  • Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place


California newt - a sure sign of spring.

Class of 2019 - A garden-gathered arrangement for my daughter's graduation dinner celebration, including: Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri, which do beautifully as cut flowers), Saliva clevelandii, Salvia 'Deer Spring Silver', Penstemon 'Garnet', Trileleia laxa, Achillea 'Moonshine',

and common Oregano in bud.

This is a moment - a place if you will - in the cycle of the seasons which is ripe with promises of spring becoming fully realized - with graduations from one place and commencement into the next place. In my physical place, the mockingbird is up early each morning, enjoying this still cool enough time of day, the baby quail are being erratically herded by their funny parents in and around the deer grass in my front border, a family of geese regularly stops traffic in a very sweet "Make Way for Ducklings" kind of way on a nearby roadway into town from my house. The small group like to move from the suburban pond to the empty lot across the way sometime mid-morning each day. In John's wildland garden, the hummingbirds are busy pulling soft seedheads from spent flower stalks and lichen from tree bark as they make their nesting places; my own suburban garden is hopping with baby toadlets and froglets (which I take to be a very good sign as to the health of my little plot), and as I water the pots or empty the compost in the early hours they hop out of my path - bip, bip, bip - as I make my way carefully to avoid them......They are nothing short of pure joy in my eyes.

In a somewhat wider lens, my youngest daughter just graduated from high school. A friend asked me if any of the commencement addresses discussed the Climate Crisis, especially in the wake of last November's Camp Fire, which destroyed our neighboring township of Paradise, swelled our town's population, and that of my daughter's high school. The fire saw my daughter volunteer in a new way for her young life - for a heartbreaking reason and yet in the way any of us might like to see our children volunteer - with real understanding and heart, for real, felt need, not just to tick a box off for a college application. And, just this past week in our town, a community garden associated with our Jesus Center tilled a new field for their "harvesting hope" CSA and uncovered an unbroken pottery bowl/vessel with clear markings of the Mechoopda Maidu people on whose historic land we in this part of interior Northern California make our lives. The farmer/gardeners made the connection between the beautiful piece of pottery and its people of origin and the vessel is now reunited with the Chico Rancheria.

These are relatively small stories and small gestures in a larger world place of far more epic stories, gestures, and need in our news headlines daily, and yet they hold, for me, important insights into these many literal, temporal, figurative, physical, emotional, and social-political-economic places in which I - and we all - live.

Each one of these cross-sections of our many places in time and space are layers upon layers of how we know, perceive, and value these places, how we understand and therefore how we cultivate them.

Clarkia amoena - backyard garden, Butte County, CA

Many of you know that I completed and submitted my first book manuscript this past January focusing on the place of women in contemporary horticulture. The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, will be published by Timber Press on March 3, 2020 to kick off National Women's History Month, in advance celebration of International Women's Day, and meaningfully enough, on Super Tuesday 2020 here in the US. I am very excited about the book and the stories it holds, the women whose work it uplifts, and the messages of hope and leadership these women represent. I promise you will hear much more about the book's arrival as we get closer.

In the way of these things (just like Mother Nature doesn't support bare soil for any length of time), I'm now deep into a new project in collaboration with photographer Caitlin Atkinson - a project intimately associated with the many evolving layers and nuances of place as it relates to gardens of the US West. This new project has had me in some profoundly thought provoking conversations these past few months with gardeners from Phoenix to Los Angeles, Monterey to Grass Valley, Portland and the Columbia Gorge in Oregon to Bainbridge Island, Washington. (Don't worry - Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and even Texas will be in the mix, too ;). These are incredible meta-gardening/quantum-gardening kinds of conversations that have stuck with me and are keeping me thinking.

One of these conversations was with Dr. Brian Brown, head of the LA County Natural History Museum's Entomology Department and Curator of Entomology there. Brian was an integral part of the team who envisioned and helped to develop the Museum's remarkable Nature Gardens, the plants and design of which were specifically chosen to maximize habitat for urban wildlife - from beetles and flies to birds and bats. When discussing with me his perspective on the term "natural beauty", Brian, Canadian-born, noted that for him the natural beauty of any garden or landscape had to include the sound of wildlife - the call and movement of birds, the buzz of insects, the scratching in the duff of ground creatures. He also noted that the "beauty" of his place was absolutely predicated on the very dryness of it. That while "water is life", the amount of water as it changes in the landscape would by extension include and exclude different populations of plants and wildlife. Too little water and crops are hard to nurture, introduce irrigation and the entire ecosystem shifts: "People love the coast horned lizard," Brian explained to me as an example, "but these beloved lizards feed largely on our native ants. When we irrigate our gardens, we provide the perfect habitat for the invasive non-native Argentine ants who could not otherwise live here, the Argentine ants overwhelm and outcompete our native ants, who are thereby excluded from our gardens along with their predators up the food chain including the horned lizard". So for Brian the imperative to avidly and actively "maintain the characteristic dryness" of our place goes hand and hand with its layered beauty.

California's iconic Oak woodland and savannah starting to turn their summer honey color. Glenn County, CA.

These conversations, along with the mundane events of my own garden life have me pondering these threads of inclusion/exclusion, cause and effect, the interconnected nature of all of our lives over time and space in each of our places.

We often seem so far removed from one another and yet I also know the power and opportunity of the cause and effect of consciously cultivating our places together - continuing to observe, think, listen - not just you to me on the podcast but me to you as well. Since June 1st of 2016, more than 216,000 individuals have downloaded Cultivating Place, with more than 835,000 total downloads. Currently 13,600 of you subscribe to the podcast and listen regularly - for which I'm incredibly grateful, and humbled.

But it's when I get to listen to you that I am fully energized in this work and know fully that the Cultivating of our Places is one of the ways we plant loving people show up and make a difference in this world environmentally, culturally, socially, economically and for the greater well-being of all.

This past month Megan from the mid-Atlantic wrote: "I want to say thank you for creating Cultivating Place. Some of the episodes have been so relevant and relatable that I find myself tearing up in the car or in the kitchen...wherever I am that I have a spare moment to listen. The work you are doing, to me, fills a void of egalitarian, smart, honest listening and disseminating of garden knowledge, so thank you."

Kyle wrote: "I've really been getting into restoring my backyard, building new flower beds, and reclaiming those that have been overrun by weeds and wildflowers. I've been trying to think of what types of plants I should bring into these areas, and after listening to your latest episode with Christina Nye at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, I've been inspired to research different types of gardens, so I can have a variety of habitats for whatever creature chooses to live in my backyard. Thanks for the incredibly informative and inspirational episodes, I really appreciate it."

Colleen from New South Wales wrote: "This afternoon I am in my studio with the sound of soaking rain on the roof, while I study plants for my latest work. As is my usual Friday practice Jennifer, your latest podcast accompanies me, this time listening to Georgina @theplanthunter [see link below]. Bliss. Thank you both of you for your words and for doing what you do. So very important. The current thread of my work is studying the plants underfoot, within one single step. This simple, deliberate process has caused me to think of the commonly used words, "can't see the forest for the trees". I can't help but think that the care of and connection with a single plant, the minutiae, and the incredible being that it is, is the start to truly seeing the bigger picture..."

Josh from San Francisco wrote: "I was in my basement workshop, where I make glass tile mosaics. It is a rather dismal work space, but it is the only one I have at this time. I enjoy listening to podcasts while I work, and I loved your interview with Margaret Roach [see link below]. I have heard her name over the years, but I had such a different idea of who she was. I was so moved when she spoke about what her garden means to her, and the memories that are tied to individual plants- friends who gave them to her, long-gone nurseries, garden visits that resulted in the gift of a cutting or two. These are the memories I linger over whenever I’m in the garden, watering or puttering. It was so nice to hear that feeling echoed in your conversation! It made my basement a little warmer and brighter."

And finally, on the most recent BEST OF episode featuring the inspiring Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm, I had an comment on Instagram from Dean who wrote: "This is GREAT - a much needed conversation."

And really, all of our gardens are (can be/should be) just that - much needed, carefully tended love letters to and conversations with our places on all levels. I hope this June finds you commencing the summer (or winter) season fully engaged and enjoying yours - even the constraints, such as heat or drought. Oddly enough, sometimes it is these aspects we sometimes see as constraints that create the particular beauty we hold most dear.





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Agastache 'Blue Boa' - an outstanding pollinator (and rainbow!) plant in the garden.

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