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  • Jennifer Jewell


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

White and Greenleaf Manzanita winter foliage - Butte County CA, January 2021

Did you have a chance to listen to my interview with Karen Flotte about Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish festival day also known as The New Year of the Trees this past week? The overlay of culture, faith, the cycles of our Earth, and the pragmatics of stewarding and caring for our plants is such an interesting one to me.

It is further of note that this religious/ritual marking of meaning in a calendar year (this one set by the phases of the moon within the seasons) comes quite close to the Celtic festival of Imbolc, which according to historians and modern practitioners, is "a pagan holiday celebrated from February 1 through sundown February 2. Imbolc is meant to mark the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox in Neolithic Ireland and Scotland.

Our plant-love, garden-life lives are endlessly communal, common and adapting ground on which we can meet. I love that.

In other new year's news - a new year being a birthday of sorts - HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Cultivating Place– we are 5 years old this month.

With more than 300 episodes in conversation with gardeners around the globe growing this world better, I am so gratified to be here with you. I wanted to share some fun numbers too: I first began looking at these things back in 2018, that year the Cultivating Place podcast was downloaded 155,000 times. In 2019, episodes were downloaded 215,000 times. In 2020 – well – this is like that rule in the garden: the 1st year plants sleep, the second they creep, the third they leap. In 2020, the Cultivating Place podcast was downloaded 381,000 times. This is testament to the power of the gardeners we hear from, the power of gardens in general.

With big thanks to the people who have been on the "team" these past 5 years (John, Stephen, Matt, Sarah, Sky, Phil, Matt, Kathryn, and Alissa) including all of you out there listening and reading and corresponding with me, I can’t think of a community I would rather be growing with.

Thank you for the great gift of your care and time – gardens make a difference in our world. Here’s to 5 more years!

A double rainbow after a recent winter storm here in Northern California. An auspicious kind of right place right time right attention gift, right?

This last month, John and I have been enjoying the unfolding show of the native foothill manzanita - going from plump buds to full bloom in the case of the greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) , and still in tight bud whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida). There are some lovely specimens in the canyons, and some lovely variation in them - from flower colors ranging from pink to white, to leaf size and coloration.

Of the many lessons of the garden and plants everywhere, ADAPT is a pretty consistent lesson. We rarely adapt because we want to, we adapt because for some reason we need to, and so we choose to in the face of this need. And often needs-based adaptation results in both incredible diversity, and incredible beauty as a secondary effect. Like these pink and white clusters of sweetness in a time of year when the overwintering birds and bees are in such need of them. Every visit to these shrubs - naturally occurring and formed along the roadside, we visit not only the blooms, but the hummingbirds whirring in among them, the bees especially at the warmest parts of the day. This morning the black eye of a ruby crowned kinglet peered out at us from inside the shrub. When he saw us see him, he flashed us with his pink warning crown feathers and settled deeper into the architectural fortress.

As many of my recent interviews illustrate so hopefully to me - the communal plant world is always adapting as well - even when we can't see it all with one glance or impression. The conversations with Tim Johnson and Jamila De Peiza-Kern of he Smith College Botanic Garden and with MaryLynn Mack of the South Coast Botanic Garden and of the American Association of Public Gardens embody some of these adaptations coming to the visible surface.

Among adaptations I've been pleased to hear of recently - that the Philadelphia Flower Show is moving to June and to the great (safer) outdoors of FDR Park in Philly; that the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is working double time apparently and hosting a virtual event in May and in an unflagging commitment to the in-person spirit (and to be fully prepared with Covid-19 precautions) they are also scheduling a full Chelsea show from 21 - 28 September.

Finally, John shared this piece with me from The Guardian (click on the green underlined words to read the article) about great listening and adaptation in Barcelona, Spain, where "The spring lockdown brought butterflies and biodiversity to the Spanish city, and inspired a reimagining of its relationship with nature." Turns out this "reimagining" was already underway with a rewilding program about to be announced prior to the pandemic, but as the article points out, when city residents were greeted by many more wildflowers, butterflies and birds - "rewilding" was a much easier sell and now wildflower verges, bat boxes, and pollinator hotels are on the agenda!

The article used the word "gardening" in some particular ways (their first use of the word makes me think it is code for very low-bar, toxic maintenance control not what you and I think of as Gardening.) That brings me back to our ongoing conversation about just what we mean when we use the word "garden/gardening/gardener", but clearly Barcelona is in the midst of adapting and updating their imagination in this regards as well.

Which is one of these beautiful sometimes unforeseen gifts of having to adapt in the first place.

Staghorn sumac in winter dress, photo by Seabrooke Leckie, all rights reserved.

A pink form of the January-blooming greenleaf manzanita native to my home region.

A 10' pink form of the January-blooming greenleaf manzanita native to our home region far left; Center, a selection of manzanita Arctostaphylos edmundsii 'Big Sur' is a perfect low growing garden specimen; and a naturally canopied white form greenleaf, far right.

A year ago, we were all scrambling to adapt to a quickly shifting situation. Here a year later, I am still of course sad to have missed out on some of the in-person events for The Earth in Her Hands book tour, but on the upside throughout the remainder of the year I was able to engage with a great many of you through virtual events with different and sometimes broader reach. While it is not strolling a garden path with one another, it is still the opportunity to know and grow with each other, for which I am grateful.

And in that time, I also completed a fabulous and enriching project with photographer Caitlin Atkinson, Under Western Skies, Visionary Gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast . A collaborative project the last two years in the making (and to which I was invited by Caitlin who envisioned the project, and Timber Press, publishers), the book is set to enter the 3 dimensional world on May 11, 2021. If this piques your interest, you can pre-order your signed copies from the Books page, or preorder from your favorite independent book store (my personal favorites are Mrs. Dalloways in Berkeley and Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, CA) and of course any and all of the on-line sources such as Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

To have this project come to life in these times seems auspicious and hopeful, following on 2020, in this climate on several levels, and on the cusp of spring in our places.

As one reviewer writes: through the wide range of gardens across the US West, Under Western Skies illuminates "the value of ecology and art in gardens both private and public.” Another notes that the gardens and garden stories are "a beautiful homage to the light and majesty of barely tamed wildness and an intimate portrait of people planting their spaces in collaboration with place.” And finally: "Visually tantalizing and superbly written, Atkinson and Jewell invite each of us to reimagine one’s connection to the land while cultivating nature close to home.”

This is of course testament to the strength and meaning of the gardens and generous and innovative gardeners included in the book in a time that needs good, strong, meaningful gardens and gardeners.

I will be launching the book with Southern California Horticultural Society on February 11th, and discussing The Earth in Her Hands more deeply with the Northwest Horticultural Society on March 10th. Hope to see some of you for these events with these outstanding organizations! You can always finds updates on events I will be taking part in on the Events page of the website.

I think most excitingly for me, I will be doing some presentations this year in which I integrate the mission and ethos of Cultivating Place with the living embodiments of this ethos in the great diversity of plantswomen growing a better world in The Earth in Her Hands, and the power and meaning of place-based gardens in Under Western Skies.

As ever, keep growing, keep loving your garden and its deep nature, and thank you for being here. Together we learn, adapt, and grow better.



and the Cultivating Place Team



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)


UNDER WESTERN SKIES: cover, the amazing and talented Caitlin, who envisioned the book, and the back cover.




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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.



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