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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

The Earth in Her Hands

For some, the realm of soil and the expanse of nature are inspiration and a world to explore in leisure time; for others, they are a professional pursuit. If you're interested in learning more about women both lesser and widely known who have trail-blazed respectfully and creatively through nature, there are two compendiums published in the last couple of years that provide lively and informative stories of women who relish(ed) the natural world through their writing and hands on work. Read on to find out more and request through Minerva.

In this volume full of interview-based professional and personal biographies and photographs of subjects (both human and plant), Jennifer Jewell, known for her podcast Cultivating Place, shares the stories of 75 women working with horticulture in a wide variety of ways. Jewell covers a wide range of careers undertaken around the world, all of which involve plants and the creative dedication of the women who spearheaded them. From floristry to botanic gardens to the food justice movement, it's incredible to see how many ways one can engage with the natural world through passionate and committed work. So often we read biographies of historical figures, but this engaging book offers a glimpse into women working today in diverse ways across the globe. Jewell's book is inspiring for anyone working in or wishing to work with plants, but it's also a reminder to anyone at all of just how many paths there are out there in the world that we may never have even thought of.

Just a sampling:

Barbara Kreski, horticultural therapist in Illinois

Fionnuala Fallon, garden column writer and farmer/florist in Ireland

Erin Benzakein, owner and founder of Floret Flower Farm in Washington

Philippa Craddock, florist in the UK

Edwina von Gal, landscape designer in New York

Ngoc Minh Ngo, garden photographer from Vietnam

Georgina Reid, garden writer in Australia

Rowen White, indigenous seed keeper in California

Susan Pell, botanist and Executive Director of the Chicago Botanic Garden


While Jewell spreads her net wide to capture a range of women working within horticulture, Kathryn Aalto uses her collective biography to focus on the stories of 25 women writers across the centuries (and into the present) who engage(d) with the natural world, or "wild," in their work. She includes writers of poetry, natural history, botany, memoirs, and more in the attempt to contribute to the conversation about "who has access to and writes about nature" and assert that it is not merely white able-bodied cisgender men. Each biography is narrative and engaging in style, and accompanied by excerpts from the writers' works, bibliographies, and illustrated portraits (by Gisela Goppel). When possible, Aalto traveled and interviewed the women of whom she wrote. She combines an exploration of nature writing with women's history, describing her subjects as "ramblers, scholars, and spiritual seekers. Conservationists, scientists, explorers. Historians, poets, and novelists. Heroines, mavericks, and swashbuckling trailblazers." And her wish? "May they inspire you to do the same."

Just a sampling:

Mary Oliver, poet

Rachel Carson, biologist, writer, and conservationist

Annie Dillard, writer of narrative prose

Leslie Marmon Silko, novelist and poet

Vita Sackville-West, garden writer and designer

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