CULTIVATED: THE ELEMENTS OF FLORAL STYLE, WOMEN WORKING IN THE WORLD OF PLANTS #4
Even in the midst of crisis, global fear, and necessary social distancing, Women’s History month on Cultivating Place continues this week with Christin Geall, writer, floral designer, flower farmer, home gardener and author of Cultivated: The Elements of Floral Design.
In 1981, the writer Eleanor Perenyi’s essay collection Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden (Random House) culminated with a provocative essay entitled “Woman’s Place.” In it, Eleanor posits a theory for the centuries-long association between women and flower gardening: suggesting that it was a male engineered “incarceration” based on the “superstitious fear that women were in league with nature in some ways that men were not.” This male dominated, societal “gifting” of the contained flower garden to the realm of women “thus simultaneously catered to and kept [women and their power] in check.”
Perenyi’s historical line of inquiry opens wide sexism in horticulture—including floriculture. Refreshingly. Rereading the piece got me thinking about the self-actualized, successful women reclaiming and operating from positions of power and intellect with their use of flowers and floral design in this first part of the 21st century.
Christin Geall demonstrates vividly that women are no longer incarcerated in the flower garden. Flowers are her horticultural medium for leading and educating others about plants with flowers acting not as pretty cages, but as colorful, Socratic forums for critical thinking. Christin’s photographs of her carefully executed floral designs—often using organically, home-grown blooms, greens, branches, and fruits—are paired with prose that reflects on issues of time and place as much as on environmental and cultural literacy. Her prose ranges from changing tastes in and views on color theory, plant selection, ecology, and literary criticism, to personal and socio-political commentary. To my mind she is to flowers what MFK Fisher was to food writing in the second half of the 20th century. Her new book Cultivated: the Elements of Floral Style is out this month from Princeton Architectural Press.
Christin and I recorded this conversation remotely just one month ago in late February, just before the two of us were headed to Seattle for the Northwest Flower and Garden show. Our entire world has changed dramatically since then, and yet perhaps now more than ever the creativity and the thinking and hands-on activities and skills that is a life with plants remains essential.
Christin appeals to keen, thoughtful people hungry for intellectual consideration; her rich aesthetic is filled with ecological commitment. She writes: “Ecologists and writers are interdisciplinary thinkers, so thinking about floral design holistically, as a form of ethnobotany, comes easily to me. I also love the workshop model of teaching—whether using flowers or words. It’s interactive, conversational, and creativity always catches you by surprise. ”
Join us again next week when we continue our series for Women’s History Month in the midst of this global crisis, pandemic, and overall RESET when we’re joined by Ayana Young, founder and host of the For The Wild Project and podcast. The wisdom of her thinking and where her attention has been focused in her work this past decade could not be more cogent to our many needs today.
There are soooooo many ways people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
RELATED EPISODES INCLUDE:
Thinking out Loud this week...
Hey it’s Jennifer, as you listen to this, I am now home safely from my abbreviated book tour for The Earth In Her Hands – and while I am so very sad to have had it cut short, I am so very glad to have met those of you I did meet and to have had the deep value of gardening affirmed for me by all of you I met in person over and over again.
And since returning home and being in self-isolation due to my travels, I have had so many notes and comments from you all letting me know how important the podcast is to you in these times – how connecting it is for you in these times of often great disconnection. SO thank you – I am improving my skills for recording from home, for editing and engineering my own audio so that Matt Fidler is freed up some to work on local coronavirus reporting. We are ALL in this together more than ever – so thank you for your continued support and patience as we meet the new normal for now together.
One of the statements that jumped out at me in the first portion of the conversation with Christin was this: “I go a little nutty if I can’t do something creative everyday.”
And I know this will resonate with most of you just now – we are all scrambling and off-balance right now – with fear, with harried attempts to plan for kids at home, for work at home if it’s possible and we are fortunate to be able to translate and transform our work in that way; for how to handle the many potential losses and worries. It is so much. It feels like too much, much of each day right now. And oddly my tiny suburban back garden and my pots out front have been right there – with work to hold my hands, with the idea of growing a little food, with fresh air away from desk and trying to control the uncontrollable.
I have always advocated for making a little time in your day every day that you can to garden – same as you do for exercise or meditation or church and today my friends this activity can be a very empowering part of your newly forming need for a schedule – for productivity and for hope. Cause that is all there in your soil and seeds, your flower and veg gardens with the birds and the bees and the need for focus and peace – and as Christin notes – CREATIVITY.
Christin points out in her book and in our conversation, the Baroque period's (a period of art history in all of the arts in Europe from the early 1600s to the early mid-1700s) emphasis on complexity and embellishment, but resisting chaos; on grandeur tempered by restraint.
For me – sitting in this seat right now, I see my own impulse to garden very meaningfully activated this week – I have sown my peas, my basil under cover, a new round of lettuce and chard and cilantro before our late spring heats up so as to make most of these bolt. John and I have organized beds in his garden where the winter onion and garlic are coming into maturity to think about where the seed potatoes will go – but we also focused on more flowers - for us and for the birds and bees. They will need the floral resources of nectar and pollen and we will need them for their place in the wildlife food chain, for their pollination or predatory services, and for the delight of being here with them.
As a global consciousness and a species – we have collectively not felt quite so tied into the fabric of life so pointedly in a very long time. I am so saddened for many of the ways that this moment in time is disrupting and causing pain and loss to so many of us – here in my county we had the Oroville Dam Crisis of 2017, the CampFire of 2018 and now this….it was never a wealthy county, and it is hitting home in extreme ways.
If there is how-to gardening information you need and you think I can point you in the right direction – reach out – I will do my best to answer any questions and point people along. In each county your master gardeners, your garden clubs, your native plant societies ALL have resources on the websites to help you out – but I am happy to help. Any time in any way I can.
Take care of yourselves and of each other – which includes all of our living creatures – wash your hands – and keep gardening.
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