Master Gardener Bookshelf: The Earth in Her Hands

The Earth in Her Hands – 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants by Jennifer Jewell
By Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener

Jennifer Jewell’s The Earth in Her Hands—75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants profiles 75 women in eight countries who are changing what we know about, and how we interact with, plants in everyday life. Jewell’s goal was to highlight the diversity of women working with plants, and the many ways they do so, and she succeeds admirably.

The profiles are arranged in alphabetical order starting with Leslie Bennet, the owner and founder of Pine House Edible Gardens and founder of Black Sanctuary Gardens in Oakland California, whose work includes creating garden spaces that build upon the cultural background of people of color. It ends with Ayana Young, co-founder, executive director, and host of the podcast For the Wild and its projects. In between you will meet scientists, native plant breeders, organic gardeners, photographers, lawyers, and florists just to mention a few.

Many of these women are on the cutting edge of major changes in the plant world. For example, Elaine Ingham, is a soil scientist, microbiologist, and ecologist, whose lab group was the first to publish the “soil food web model” describing the role of soil microorganisms in supporting plant growth. Others, such as Leah Penniman, author of Farming While Black (available at the Alexandria Public Library and the Arlington County Public Library) and co-founder, co-director, and program manager of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, promote gardening as a tool for social and food justice. Two of the profiled women are also current or past participants in the Extension Master Gardener program.

Each profile starts with the woman’s occupation (e.g. botanist, landscape architect, seed grower, young farmers advocate, writer, public garden administrator,) and her favorite plant or landscape. Next comes a more detailed description of her work and the philosophy that guides it. Additionally, each woman identifies other women who have inspired her, or who are up and coming in the plant world, thereby introducing the reader to even wider group of women and their work.

Several of the profiled women work in our geographic area including Cynthia Ann Brown, manager, horticulture collections and education, Smithsonian Institution; Peggy Cornett, garden historian and curator of plants at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia; Susan Pell, deputy executive director, and science and public programs manager, United States Botanic Gardens; Ira Wallace, worker and co-owner of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, Virginia;  and Claudia West, landscape designer and principal of Phyto Studios in Arlington Virginia.  (See our review of Planting in a Post-Wild World which she co-authored with Thomas Rainer).

The Earth in Her Hands is an inspiring read, not only because of what these women do to connect people and plants, but also because of the global impact of their work. It is also a fantastic compendium of gardening resources including books, blogs, and websites for anyone who wants to learn more about a specific woman or her work. It would be a great gift for anyone considering a career in the world of plants.

The Earth in her Hands:  75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants (Timber Press, 2020) is available at the Arlington County Public Library and from national booksellers.

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