May 19, 2021
Cultivating Place: Jennifer Jewell
When I started gardening, I didn’t really think about “cultivating place,” the mission behind Jennifer Jewell’s NPR affiliate’s award-winning program and podcast, Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden. I just wanted a pretty, respectable-looking yard. Now I realize that my first steps were indeed guiding me to a complex mindfulness of the intricate long-standing relationships in the world that we inhabit for a time, but where our actions impact generations to come.
“And I would say to you that I think most people’s entry into gardening comes from just sheer interest and curiosity and attraction to what is lovely, what delights us, what is pretty, what smells good,” Jennifer said in our recent conversation via Zoom from her home in Chico, California.
“But I think that what keeps us gardening, and as we grow as gardeners, is that deep sense of connection that we get when we sort of find ourselves spacing out in the garden while we water in the evening, or when we get distracted in the morning on the way to the car because we have to pick three weeds, or we see a caterpillar or a butterfly that interests us and then we realize that it’s 20 minutes later. That engagement where we find ourselves fully interconnected and interdependent with the world around us whether it’s the plants, or the weather, or the soil, or the wildlife. . . And that’s what I really wanted to explore in Cultivating Place, not how to do this, not the 10 best tips for XYZ this year, but I really wanted to highlight those stories of people in those great moments.”
Jennifer’s engaged my soul since I listened to her the first time many years back. Through Cultivating Place and now two books, she grows philosophy for change in thoughtful conversations that elevate local-to-global stories of community activism, social justice, and environmental healing that connect us to gardening’s cultural and spiritual value.
Her relationship to Northern California’s NPR affiliate, North State Public Radio, started in 2007 with a weekly broadcast, In a North State Garden, that focused on the station’s 10 counties. “I had grown a little weary and a little skeptical about how mainstream media was portraying gardens and gardeners at that exact moment in our cultural environment. And I felt like we had moved so far to the two- dimensional image-driven superficial that we had actually commodified our gardens in a way that I was uncomfortable with. And I knew that most gardeners that I spoke with, also did not experience gardening the way it was showing up on glossy magazine pages,” she said.
In 2016, when the station approached her about expanding to a one-hour program, she wanted to expand horizons, too, and be more globally focused. “And so, it became Cultivating Place. And now I can interview people from anywhere in the world,” she said.
Streaming expanded listener engagement, too. We can listen wherever we live, whenever we want, listen again, and pause to order the guest’s book or check out their website. North State and Jennifer added a podcast version, too, where she can extend the conversation.
Since March 2020, Jennifer’s been working from home, as I am, too. “And thankfully for technology, which is a bonus and a drag sometimes as we know, this has allowed me to record and now edit all of my own work from home. And that’s been a big help to the radio station, in terms of staffing and people in the studio itself,” she said.
An author too, in her books she extends her commitment to relationships between people and the spaces they inhabit. In 2020, Timber Press released The Earth in Her Hands; 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants.
This was one of my treasured pandemic reads when I was struggling with credence in my mission. I’ve met some of the women that Jennifer features (and some have been on CTG). Others were familiar to me and others brand new introductions. Through them all, I found strength in their stories of developing and pursuing their mission through botany and horticulture, art, science, environment, business, and economic and social justice.
About writing the book, Jennifer said, “It was one of those experiences where you take your eyes off of all that’s wrong in the world, and you focus so completely on those people who are doing real things, to be the solution to these problems that are so daunting to us. And it totally changed my own mindset.”
This month brings us newly-released Under Western Skies; Visionary Gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. When renowned photographer Caitlyn Atkinson approached Timber Press to tell the stories of gardeners who draw inspiration from the land, rather than trying to dominate it, Jennifer felt “that is the universe calling me” when invited to collaborate as writer.
Caitlyn’s awe-inspiring photography and Jennifer’s poignant pen connect philosophy expressed in diverse perspectives and personalities across Vancouver Island, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and even Marfa, Texas. All had to be hands-on gardeners at some level. “And they all are very integrated with the natural history and culture of the places that they’re in. So, they are working with their climate,” Jennifer said.
Caitlyn joined Jennifer in a Cultivating Place conversation to tell her story about becoming a photographer and some of the challenges she faces. I’ve listened to it twice already!
Watch Jennifer’s story now!
Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda