Jennifer Jewell: The Earth is in Her Hands

Jennifer Jewell: The Earth is in Her Hands

Temple University is focused on ensuring the health and safety of our community members and campus and Arboretum visitors. The university is taking several measures to keep everyone safe amid the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

 On March 12, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all Montgomery County schools, including universities, would be closed for two weeks. In accordance, Temple University Ambler closed on Thursday, March 12. The Ambler Arboretum will also be closed to outside guests at this time.

Regretfully, Temple University Ambler and the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University must take the necessary measure of postponing or rescheduling, where possible, all events and programs through the end of the spring semester, May 8.

Jennifer Jewell's lecture has been postponed to Thursday, October 29. A new date and registration information will be announced.

Plants and a deep connection to the natural world are in Jennifer Jewell’s DNA.

Even if she wanted to change her nature — which she doesn’t — gardening, horticulture and connecting with the world around her “is who I am; it’s internal,” said the garden writer, gardening educator and advocate, whose first book, The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, was released on March 3.

“I grew up 8,000 feet up with Colorado’s Front Range to explore. It’s always been a part of my extended life,” said Jewell. “My mother was a professional gardener; my father was a wildlife biologist. My mother’s sister was married to (American cultural theorist, landscape designer and architectural historian) Charles Jencks and my uncle was a landscape architect. With all of that, however, I never considered the horticulture field or gardening as a potential career.”

Jewell would take the scenic route to arrive at the conclusion that her passion could also be her profession, a life-altering decision that placed her on the path to connect with dozens of women in the broad scope of the horticulture field who are engaged in exceptionally innovative and pioneering work.

The Ambler Arboretum of Temple University will welcome Jewell for the 3rd Annual Celebration of Women in Horticulture in Fall on Thursday, October 29. The event, part of the Ambler Arboretum Speaker Series, recognizes women in the field of horticulture who epitomize the founding principles of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (PSHW), the foundation on which Temple University Ambler was developed.

“The women recognized and presenting each year embody the ‘educated and earnest-minded women’ with ‘trained hands and trained minds’ that were the product of PSHW,” said Ambler Arboretum Director Kathy Salisbury. “The presenters represent women who continue to do work in the field while advancing the profession and the science of horticulture.”

The program is being presented in partnership with Women in Horticulture of the Delaware Valley and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Space is limited. Register for the lecture and book signing online.

According to Jewell, after completing her undergraduate work in world literature at Harvard University, she landed a job at Microsoft in Seattle writing for the software giant’s Encarta encyclopedia. Never content with the life of a cubicle-dweller, Jewell pitched the idea of a series of articles on “great gardens of the world,” while additionally writing about the many local gardens and arboreta in the Seattle area, knowing the projects would allow her to explore and further her own knowledge of gardening and horticulture.

“Combining my writing with gardening, I was hooked,” she said. “I moved to England not long after for about two years and had a chance to experience gardens that were on a whole other level.”

Jewell’s professional career in garden writing began in 1998, her writing and photography appearing in a wide variety of publications, including Gardens Illustrated, House & Garden, Natural Home, Old House Journal, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles, and Pacific Horticulture. In 2016, she began to write and host a national award-winning weekly public radio program and podcast, Cultivating Place, which highlights “the intersections between gardens, the native plant environments around them and human culture.”

“For the past few years, I’ve routinely had the opportunity to interview some truly interesting people. These were women whose stories I wanted to explore further, stories I wanted to tell,” she said. “For the book, it wasn’t a simple process to condense it down to just 75 women. So span such a diverse range of professions and experiences — horticulturists, environmental scientists, botanists, nurserywomen, plant pathologists, educators, plant breeders, writers, food justice advocates, landscape architects, herbalists, seed keepers.”

The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, published by Timber Press, explores and celebrates how the plant world is improved by greater representation and diversity. It chronicles how working in the world of plants is a more viable and creative career path for women than ever before and “how the plant-work world is demonstrating greater social and environmental responsibility.”

“I want to empower and inspire gardeners as they learn about these incredible women. It is never ‘just gardening,” she said. “You can have a tremendous impact on your community — remediating climate change, restoring lost habitat and ensuring everyone has access to healthy food choices are just a few examples. I wanted to explore why we garden and why it is culturally important — gardens and gardeners are powerful intersectional agents of positive change.”

Jewell said she decided to share the stories of women who are making “the greatest push to expand our understanding and deepen our knowledge of how we are connected to the world around us.”

“I think women bring a great deal to horticulture, including collaboration, pragmatism, bone-crushing courage and strength, the impulse to nurture, compassion and empathy,” she said. “I hope we will continue to grow and see a greater diversity and representation for all people regardless of color, gender, or background. The greater the diversity of voices we have in this conversation, the more representative they will be, and the farther these voices and their messages will travel.”

The Earth in Her Hands is a horticultural who’s who of diverse voices. The youngest, for example, is Ava Bynum, who at 20-years-old founded Hudson Valley Seed, a school garden project in New York “driven by the agricultural history of the country, especially as it relates to communities that have been disenfranchised based on their cultural backgrounds or economic standing.” The program currently educates more than 4,000 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

One of the elder stateswomen among the 75 profiled is Clare Cooper Marcus, professor emerita of the departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Clare focused early in her career on assessing and measuring how and why people make use of designed landscapes in cities, trying to link the social sciences with the design professions,” Jewell said. “She is a leader in the field of evidence-based research, education and design of therapeutic landscapes specifically in settings such as hospitals and nursing homes. She’s been a true pioneer in our understanding of gardens as spaces of healing — what comprises a healing garden and how to make them more accessible to the individuals and populations that would benefit most from them.”

While all of the women profiled provide insight and understanding to the broad scope of the gardening field and what it can and should mean to society as a whole, Antiguan-born American author Jamaica Kincaid is a personal inspiration, Jewell said. In addition to her celebrated writing, Kincaid is a professor of African and African American Studies in the Department of English at Harvard University.

“When I was a young mother in my first house with my own garden, I read (Kincaid’s) collection of New Yorker essays, My Garden (Book),” she said. “I had been gardening my whole life in a family of gardeners, but Kincaid’s insights and explorations taught me how to see gardening through much broader lenses. I will always be grateful for this insight.”

Kincaid sums up the idea of gardening perfectly.

“Plants contain the world,” she said. “The garden gave the world to me.”

Jewell said ultimately her goal with The Earth in Her Hands and her March 24 lecture at Temple University Ambler “is the same as it has been with the Cultivating Place podcast.”

“I want to get people to rethink just what gardens are and can be and reconsider their idea of a gardener,” she said. “I want to publicly celebrate this role in life for any and all who need to hear it — who need the encouragement and permission to own their ‘gardenerhood’ proudly.  

For additional information about Jennifer Jewell’s lecture and book signing and the 3rd Annual Celebration of Women in Horticulture, contact or 267-468-8400.