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  • Jennifer Jewell


Courtney Allen at the Huntington Botanic Garden in Southern California. Photos courtesy of Courtney Allen. All rights reserved.


This week we kick off a multi-episode series looking at the work of native plant organizations and gardeners on the ground and around the country. Today we dive deep into a conversation on the nature of place with historic preservationist Courtney Allen, Director of Public Programs at the Native Plant Trust.

“Reading the landscape intrigues me for several reasons, the first because it insists that we become aware of our senses and of our experience in a place, it also insists that we become comfortable with place as something that constantly changes, and that is very difficult for people to accept, and then it insists that we take on accountability for human influence on a place. All of these are critical steps to prepare to cultivate place [consciously and conscientiously]; I also find reading a landscape fascinates me because different people notice different clues."

Courtney Allen, Director of Public Programs, Native Plant Trust

The Native Plant Trust - formerly known as the New England Wildflower Society, most directly serves the native plants and native plant enthusiasts of the New England region of the US but as international leaders in native plant conservation, their influence, programs, and collaborations have positive impacts globally.

A landscape historian and preservationist by training, Courtney brings her skills to bear on how we know, value, and relate to the native plants of our areas to be more considered and intentional about why and how we conserve plants and their associated landscapes going forward.

Courtney has worked in public engagement around art and horticulture throughout her career and at such diverse organizations as The Huntington Botanical Garden in Southern California and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

She joins us from the PRX Podcast Garage studios in Cambridge, MA to share more on her plant life journey story, the important role of native plants in our current environmental crisis, and reading our surrounding landscapes as intersections of the conceptual and the literal in our individual and communal lives. Together we explore all that we can learn from really seeing and READING the landscapes of our places. Lessons and insights on history, culture, climate, accountability, integrity, and humility are all there.

“It’s important for gardeners and plantspeople to read a landscape because it reminds us that we’re only one moment in the lifecycle of a place, that we are contributing but there are many factors that shape whether plants and places thrive and that those factors started began long before us, I think it also reminds us that a place is made collectively, not by any single individual, and so it makes us more aware of our of connection to plants and places, but also to communities."

Courtney Allen, Director of Public Programs, Native Plant Trust

In her work, and in our conversation, Courtney brings her considerable interpretive skills to bear on understanding more fully our relationships to our landscapes and putting that knowledge to work for the benefit of conserving and supporting those very landscapes and their plants. As we talked, Courtney shared with us her own sense of HOME in a landscape and considered some of the nuanced insights offered to us in how we see or don’t see a landscape, and how when we learn to read a landscape we learn more about ourselves. As a person and a gardener, Courtney is fascinated about all the levels of information available to us in being more attuned to all of the information embodied in the landscapes that surround us - the intricacies and treasures available in learning to a read a landscape and see familiar things with new eyes. These skills and the teaching and learning of them are integral to the programs Courtney develops and leads for the Native Plant Trust, and from my seat I'd say that they are integral and important to each of us as gardeners in our own places.

You can follow along with Courtney's work at, on Instagram at: /nativeplanttrust/




I am sure your ears perked up at this too = but Courtney’s many years long practice of learning three new plants a day kind of rocked me. I know a lot of plants, but I could easily set myself a goal of learning 3 new ones each day and still have a hard time learning all of my Native Plants in the next decade. But I LOVE THIS concept. Because looking to learn a new plant – their face, their seasonal garb and growth, their places, their friends – this is a unequivocal sign of caring, of respecting, of valuing. And to give your time to such a task – even if it was one new plant learned well and week – this my plantloving friends would be time well spent for our own lives, and for all the lives around us. Once we learn and know another life in such personal detail – there’s no telling what we’ll do on its behalf….

Should WE start a New Plant of the day, week, or month club? Maybe other people already do this?

Maybe no matter where we live or how many plants we’ set ourselves to learn, we’d update each other on one plant we learned this month and what we learned about them?

I’m kind of liking this idea….where would we start? How would we start?

Maybe we’d each post our newly learned plant on the first day of each month and write up our thoughts and tag the post with


Hmmmmm – could I do this for a full 12 months with presences and intention? I think I could….could you?

I know, I throw this kind of thing out there just about every week to what resonates – to honor my own curiosity and maybe pique yours too, but if you’d be interested in this #MyPlantofthemonthCP idea let me know…because of course it’s like any new discipline and habit – it sticks better and is way more fun in community with others….

I’d happily brainstorm it with any of you – send me a note at or leave a comment at Cultivating Place on Instagram or Facebook….or heck – just do it today which is the first of August or someday this week retroactively for your August pick….

As always – thank you for for being a participant in Cultivating Place.




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