- Jennifer Jewell
PLANTING YOUR TRUTH with ABRA LEE, PUBLIC HORTICULTURIST
Abra Lee to date has had an 18 year career in horticulture - a County Extension Agent with the University of Georgia, former horticulturist at the Atlanta Airport and the Houston Airport, a free lance horticultural writer, an educator.
Throughout the conversation, Abra shares with us some of her experiences and insights as a younger, Black woman working and growing in public horticulture, including the importance of meeting and honoring people where they are in order to share the love of plants, gardens, and design - and the importance of owning your own life beauties and truths with courage, which is part of what landed her the job of landscape manager at Hartsfield Jackson – also known as the Atlanta International Airport.
Abra is a member of the 2019-2010 Cohort of Longwood Fellows in advanced horticultural and public horticultural management, and joined us from her home and garden in Georgia to speak with us about her career to date and her hopes for the future.
""I remember seeing these women in my family who were so stylish, and I remember the quilts in the family homes, and I remember the fresh food - all I saw was luxury. I saw them as fancy people, and they were really country people. I love how beautiful they were and I also love their rural African-American Garden - with the work space in the back and the garden space in the front. Through them, I realized that was the way to tell my story - and to tell my truth - to find that intersection of my family culture and horticulture and to acknowledge my family and roots through my work."
Abra Lee, Longwood Gardens Fellow, 2019 - 2020
Throughout her career to date in the field of public horticulture – as an extension agent, as a city arborist, as the landscape and horticulture manger and lead at the Atlanta International Airport – she has seen how gardens and landscapes can be places of exclusion for many, places of white privilege and often male white privilege especially at the top levels of management.
As she continues in her own career path, Abra aims to continue to help transform horticulture and public horticulture as ever greater places of inclusion and welcome, places where anyone and everyone can and should see themselves reflected and empowered. As she noted earlier in our conversation we all garden and there are endless connections between horticulture and our everyday lives, between pop culture and style and horticulture – it’s a common ground she is cultivating it.
She states “we’re all one big complicated family, no matter what might separate us, we’re family nevertheless, so I love when people see themselves as a result of my being in a space - completely owning and reflecting my culture. I love when people see those commonalities, they identify and get it.”
You can follow along with Abra's work at on Instagram at: conquerthesoil/
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
When you think of public horticulture – when I think of public horticulture – I’m heartened and hopeful to think of it being brought to bear with critical cultural eyes in places like airports and public squares as well as public gardens – because this literal common grounds really do meet us where we are, and perhaps where we might least expect it, but need it most. Where we need to be reminded and to remember that we live on a planet made possible by plants, diverse lives daily made possible by our astounding diversity of plants, and all of us made better by these truths….
Plant the change you want to see is a refrain in my own life right now, Abra’s planting the change she wants to see – with actions, with courage, with plants, and with astute observation.
May we all be so brave and bright.
Many of you know that I’m back recently from a family gathering that took me to Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Slovak Republic and the Czech republic. To observe the incorporation of horticulture in public spaces throughout the journey of course led to my own internal dialogue comparing and contrasting the cultural standing of horticulture in the US versus what it felt like as an outside observer in these countries….which ultimately brought up questions of WHY and How it was and came to be so. Why do some towns, cities and countries proudly incorporate horticulture into their very identities and others not? Why are window boxes and wildflower roadside verges embraced in some communities and not others? What is this about and what does it say about any of us over time and space?
I was not alone in this contemplation this last month – several of you, Tucker Fitzpatrick of Southern Ca, Jenny Harris of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest shared similar musings with me….and offered out some thought provoking ideas….To hear Abra’s memories of the beauty and richly detailed gardened spaces of her childhood in Barnesville Georgia in fact makes me want to hear more from others – what strikes you about how you came to see (and perhaps how you felt seen in or by) plants, gardens and landscapes culturally wherever you came from – in the cultural background of your life? Why do think this was so – what made it valued or devalued?
I’d love to hear about your thoughts on these issues if you’d like to share…. Please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave comments on the weekly post of this episode on Instagram or Facebook….because the more we know and understand where we are, the faster and more effectively we’ll be able to get to where we want to be – including the healthy, fully inclusive and reflective embrace of plants and dynamic landscapes into more aspects of each of our everydays.
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