RADICAL ACTIVISM: CULTURE & GARDENS - LESLIE BENNETT, PINE HOUSE EDIBLE GARDENS
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Leslie Bennett is the founder and owner of Pine House Edible Gardens in Oakland, CA. Her garden designs earn national recognition, most recently gracing the pages of Garden Design and Better Homes & Gardens. Her garden design work and her business management both draw on her background in environmental law, cultural property and social justice. She believes deeply in our gardens representing our cultural heritages and informing our futures.
She writes: "For me, edible landscapes are a long term relationship, where my clients get to have all kinds of fun, seasonal experiences in their gardens and kitchens. My specific focus is on designing and building stylized vegetable and cutting flower gardens -- in other words, working gardens that happen to have beautiful structural design.”
She continues:" it's so important and exciting that, as my business has become more established, I've been able to recruit gardeners of color as staff, and been able to take on interns of color and train them to be lead gardeners on my team." She’s also have been able to reach out to and take on more people of color as clients, regardless of their budgets. Her ability to do more of this is growing as her business does.
"My own home garden is one of the best examples of a cultural landscape, I spent time
thinking about it in terms of: I'm going to spend time here with my 2 year old son,
and what do I want him to know about who he is and what he comes from?"
Her real goal with "this is not around 'diversity' in and of itself but rather around the fact that gardens and gardening and just plain old natural beauty have been so important for her own happiness and joy," and she understands her work as "helping to make those joys more available to everybody, and especially black people and people of color.”
The daughter of an English mother and a Jamaican father, Leslie has studied law, cultural property and farming in the US, England and Jamaica. In our interview, she shares her journey learning how to marry cultural diversity to gardens of beauty and meaning, gardens that reflect her values as an environmental and cultural property lawyer and activist but which also speak to her goal of designing beautiful and functional gardens for a wide variety of people and reasons. With a Jamaican-born husband, a two year old son, and knowledgeable, passionate views about the importance of cultural heritage, Leslie navigates these marriages of beauty, function, and cultural property in all her garden work.
Leslie proudly runs her garden design business out of and lives in Oakland with her husband, Linval Owens and their 2 year old son, Samuel. She is the co-author along with Stefani Bittner of "The Beautiful Edible Garden," published in 2013.
As we head into a season of harvest, Leslie speaks to this week via Skype from her offices in Oakland, CA.
To learn more and hear more from Leslie, follow her on Instagram @pinehouseediblegardens. Leslie was also the guest of Debra Prinzing, founder of the Slow Flowers Movement, on her podcast, click here to listen.