Book Review: The Earth in Her Hands

In The Earth in Her Hands (Timber Press, 2020), Jennifer Jewell introduces readers to 75 women in horticulture and gardening. Some are names you’ll recognize from plant tags or seed packets, such as Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seeds or Annie Hayes of Annie’s Annuals and Perennials. Some are famous for other endeavors, such as authors Jamaica Kincaid or Robin Wall Kimmerer. And, many you may have never heard of.

The earth in her hands coverJewell’s point is to shine a light on the work these women are doing, whether as founders of grassroots community organizations, garden designers, writers and photographers, flower growers or caretakers of gardening institutions. “Their work,” Jewel says, “illustrates how the many challenges of our world can be met through cultivating and interdependence on plants. It is a rebirth in many sectors. And like all birthings, this one is being sung, screamed crooned, whispered, hummed and rocked into existence by distinctly female voices.”

The Earth in Her Hands grew out of Jewell’s podcast Cultivating Place, which focuses on the connections between gardens, natural history and culture. The profile subjects vary widely in location, garden background and mission. It is not the kind of book you read straight through, but rather one you dip in and out of when looking for inspiration. It’s beautifully illustrated with photo portraits of each woman in her garden space.

Each profile is structured in the same way, describing the person’s role, the plant or landscape that they love best and a longer description of their journey as a plantswoman. Lastly, each subject lists other women who have inspired them — sometimes these lists are fascinating, too.

A couple of interesting examples from the book:

Yolanda Burrell was a long-time gardener involved in a loose-knit group of gardeners, backyard chicken keepers and other urban farmers in Oakland, Calif. The area lacked access to gardening supplies and local garden information. To solve that problem, Burrell started a business that grew into Pollinate Farm & Garden, an edible plant nursery and supply store that caters to local gardeners. While the business struggled at first, after five years, it is a vital part of its neighborhood. “We’re in this very economically, ethnically and age-diverse area; the thing that brings us all together is that we all eat and we all deserve fresh, healthy food,” Burrell says.

Francoise Weeks is a floral designer in Portland, Ore., known for her surprising floral arrangements using unusual natural materials, such as sticks, moss and bark. After years of creating traditional wedding and event arrangements, Weeks remembered family hiking vacations where children would gather bark and other objects from the forest to create arrangements. Weeks’ inventive arrangements include high heels made of leaves and berries and dresses of overlapping branches. “When I looked beyond the flowers and gardens,” she says, “when I looked up, I saw the ferns, the trees, lichens on the branches. Mosses. All these gifts of Mother Nature I had not noticed.”

Each of the 73 other women in The Earth in Her Hands are just as fascinating as these two. This is a book I hope every school library will add to its collection to show girls (and boys, too) the amazing careers and life pursuits available through horticulture.



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