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  • Jennifer Jewell


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

California native bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) in the heart of the season.

Trinity Alps Willderness June 2020

"History, Geography, Botany & Power – the whole world is there in the garden." Ever since first reading Jamaica Kincaid’s thoughts on the garden in the early 2000s, I have been struck by the import and consequences of what she notes so incisively. The whole world, mine and yours – is there in the garden - whoever and just about wherever you may be as a gardener.

Looking out my office window onto my small front courtyard garden – maybe 19 feet by 19 feet in a Northern Californian suburb, I'm accompanied in my daily view by a potted Camellia japonica 'Pink Pearl’ the genus of which is native to China and Japan, but this cultivar I believe selected by Nuccios, a nursery in Southern California, from which my mother, now 22 years passed, bought me my first camellia’s when I lived in Seattle.

There's a large Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light', also native to Asia, and which I first fell in love with in a Colorado garden when I was a young mother to two little girls almost 20 years ago now and it is perfectly positioned to block my view of the drive and to catch the morning light while I sit here and work; there is a sesame plant new to me, and native to India, recommended to me by North Carolinian gardener Brie Arthur and purchased as seed from Kitazawa Seed specializing in Asian vegetable seeds and based in San Francisco. I'm so thrilled with the seed pods forming and the thought that I might harvest edible sesame seed.

There are locally and regionally California native salvias and buckwheats, variously used by, coevolved with and sacred to the indigenous peoples of this place including the Mechoopda Maidu on whose unceded land I live and garden; there are iceberg roses, bred in Europe in the late 1950s, there are violets and marigolds, and many Mediterranean herbs thyme, mint, marjoram, chamomile – all herbs used medicinally for thousands of years by cultures throughout time; there are tomatoes trying to take advantage of the full southern sun but struggling in the soil damaged by proximity to a concrete slab foundation. There is a shell from Turks and Caicos purchased on a family vacation (something I would never again purchase), there is a metal Tree of Life from Mexico positioned on the wall above a little frog fountain I fashioned out of a cast stone trough gifted to me by my friend Kim, who lives in Minneapolis.

And right beside the front door there is a well-traveled and much beloved 9 tile Tree of Life mosaic that I bought as individual tiles wrapped in foreign language newspaper from a Palestinian artist on the side of the road in Israel back in the 1990s when I was a mid-twenties unmarried woman traveling with my sisters. Currently, a tiny little pacific chorus frog spends her days sleeping on the top of this now framed mosaic and at night she wanders the courtyard hunting and eating the noisy night insects.

A blessing of butterflies in the heart of the season, photo by John Whittlesey.

The whole world – my small world and our larger world – wars and thefts, enslavements and displacements, triumphs and losses, lies and laughter, deceptions and fidelities, babies and divorces; layers and cycles, second chances and 55th chances at starting and trying again all right here out my window.

In my conversations with Jamaica Kincaid prior to writing about her in The Earth in Her Hands, she said this: “The thing we have liked the most about gardens is the love of a flower from somewhere else. Most people don’t know that the marigold and dahlia were part of Montezuma’s gardens. If we could just honor one another, it wouldn’t feel so badly to have taken them. Honoring one another is one way perhaps that we redeem ourselves; I am very interested in redemption,” she told me.

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

A double heart shaped wild ginger in bloom - June 2020 Trinity Alps Wilderness.

Redemption. An interesting word – Ms. Kincaid talks about how we as people can work to honor one another – work to re-find and retell and re-share histories which were hidden – stolen – histories that some strove to erase. But the long, layered, original histories are still there – embodied in the plants and the seeds and the art and the myth and the lived history of peoples and places.

The word Redeem literally means – to regain, to reclaim, to recover. In what we plant, what language we use with and in our gardens – we literally reclaim the garden and its history and meaning in a greater fullness – a fullness born of tragedy, evil, beauty and joy – the simple joy is always there too, but it is a truer joy in a context of greater truth.

I like to make myself as a gardener truly think about what it means to be a gardener - Jamaica Kincaid wrote about gardens with history and power at their center – because that is in fact what is at their center. IN honor of the fourth of July 2018 we spoke with artist activist Nekisha Durrett whose sculptural exhibit at the US Botanic Garden based on the cotton plant explored the complicated history of this plant for her as a black woman; for fourth of July 2019 we were joined by Robin Wall Kimmerer and her thoughts on being a citizen of this world and a gardener with it from an indigenous reciprocal ecological knowledge and relationship perspective; and here in this conversation with Jamaica Kincaid towards the end of our conversation she notes that for her the greatest thing we as gardener citizens can do is to be kind. As many of you will remember, the poet Ross Gay glossed for us the relationship between the word kind and the word kin.

In this way we are never citizens of one country even on the 4th of July – we are family within the world.

In this way – perhaps- we ourselves and our even very small gardens are the living cover crops we ourselves need to reclaim and reseed and redeem that with which we want to grow forward.

Happy high heartfelt Summer Garden and Gardening to you - thank you for being with me on this Cultivating Place journey.


and the Cultivating Place Team


Despite Covid-19, I've had the opportunity – powerful and transformative in these times, I will add - to gather virtually with some individuals and groups to really sink our teeth into what these times are teaching and un-teaching in us – as gardeners and as humans. If you have not had the chance to listen in – I will add links to those of these talks that were recorded – including a wonderful deep and true conversation hosted by the San Francisco Botanical Garden on the evening of June 9th in which I was in conversation with the Garden Designer and Cultural Landscape leader Leslie Bennett, who is featured in The Earth in Her Hands, as well as Kara Newport, Executive Director of the historic home and garden Filoli.

While meeting in person still presents challenges, I am pleased to be able to still be in deeper conservation with groups across the country – I am the program speaker for several garden, book, and master gardener groups around the country late this summer and into the fall to really dig into group conversation around what it means to cultivate our places, what we can learn from the models and journeys of the women in The Earth In Her Hands, and how we go about more consciously and conscientiously growing the world we want to see. I love this kind of nitty gritty engagement and the true work of it. If your group is interested in speaking me more about this kind of virtual event – please reach out by email or find out more on the website: I look forward to hearing from you!


The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants


And unsigned copies from: IndieBound:; Barnes & Noble:; and Amazon:



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


The orchids, and lilies, phlox, bumble bees, and fabulous fungi of this regional garden place - June 2020.




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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.



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