For millennia, as Jennifer Jewell points out in the Introduction to The Earth in Her Hands, women’s work with plants was not acknowledged or rewarded. Which did not make it any less important. Part of Jewell’s aim in compiling this collection is to address the lack of recognition of women’s work in the plant world, and the crucial nature of diversity — cultural, racial, social — in enriching that work.
Our human engagement with plants connects us to the natural world, to our communities, and to ourselves on powerful intellectual, physical, and spiritual levels. … [The work of the women profiled in this book] illustrates how the many challenges of our world can be met through cultivating an interdependence with plants. … For centuries now the most visible representations of horticulture have been images of middle-aged and middle-class or affluent white people. But horticulture is a human impulse, in all cultures, in all times, practiced, codified, ritualized, and valued across any and all social boundaries.
Arranged in alphabetical order (by last name) from Leslie Bennett, founder of Black Sanctuary Gardens in Oakland, California, to Ayana Young, cofounder and host of “For the Wild” podcast, the book profiles women around the world who are revolutionizing horticulture, landscape design, flower and vegetable farming, seed-growing, botany, herbalism, and plant-related art and conservation.
Some of them are already legends: Indian environmental and agroecology advocate Vendana Shiva, whose work elevating the status of women farmers is internationally recognized; garden journalist Margaret Roach, former editorial director of Martha Stewart Living; seedswoman Renee Shepherd, founder of Renee’s Garden Seeds, who helped convince Michelle Obama to greatly expand the White House edible garden; landscape architect and livable cities practitioner Mia Lehrer; and plantswoman Lauren Springer, whose passion for gardening for wildlife equals her love for introducing outstanding native plants to the green industry. Others, if not as well-known, are influencers in their own way, visionaries who are passionate about their work and about making a positive change in the world.
Jewell introduces each profile with a short section called “Her Landscape” or “Her Plants.” A brief quote gives a personal glimpse into each woman. Cara Loriz, Executive Director of the Organic Seed Alliance based in rainy Port Townsend, Washington, confesses that her landscape is “The high desert. I love the tenacity of the plants that grow there and I am fascinated by the Native American history of farming in this landscape.” At the end of each profile are the names of women who have inspired each influencer, a lovely way of acknowledging and highlighting their network of mentors.
The profiles are enriched by abundant quotes from each of the women, clearly drawn from Jewell’s interviews for her radio show and podcast. That abundance of source material brings each woman to life, although the profiles sometimes feel a bit choppy, as if pruned too severely to fit into the book’s format: four pages per profile, including a portrait photo of each woman in her milieu.
My one real disappointment though, is the book’s clothbound cover, which features an embossed design that is as lively as a 1960s textbook. That aside, The Earth in Her Hands is a compendium of women plant-influencers whose work is worth displaying, sharing, and consulting again and again.