Black History Month Feature: Abra Lee & The Untold Stories of Black Horticulture

Gardening, Horticulture, IDEA
In recognition of Black History Month, CMBG’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access) Committee wanted to take the opportunity to honor the traditions, skills, and knowledge Black Americans have brought to our field. Each week, one of our members will offer a blog post featuring the Black horticulturists, farmers, gardeners, and botanists who have inspired them.
This week, we welcome CMBG digital marketing coordinator, Tory Paxson. Tory holds a degree in communications, with a specialization in digital marketing, and is a Boothbay native happy to be telling the stories of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to the larger community of garden, plant, and nature lovers.

As Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Gardens, I end up sharing a lot of stories. Perhaps because of this, I have a deep appreciation and admiration for storytellers, especially those who have applied their own compelling lens to subjects that are near and dear to what we do and talk about at the Gardens.

Which brings me to Abra Lee.

Abra Lee, a graduate of Auburn University College of Agriculture with a B.S. in horticulture, led public horticulture teams at two of the nation’s largest airports and is a member of the prestigious Longwood Fellows program. She has the chops to wax poetic about horticulture and gardening, and the charisma to get the rest of us to listen—whether you’re a professional horticulturist or simply a casual enthusiast.

In fact, she makes an art form out of storytelling, weaving the considerable threads of her plant-based knowledge with truths, legacies, and histories from her cultural heritage focusing on the Black gardeners and farmers who came before her. These stories have been largely untold, and Abra is bringing Black history’s gardeners, farmers, and growers back into the public eye—and into their rightful places in the overall history of American gardening and horticulture. In all areas, but especially in nature- and plant-based fields like ours, Black history has been underrepresented and Black contributions underappreciated. Abra is bringing these stories back to light.

To hear some of these histories yourself, I recommend this webinar with Abra Lee from the Cummer Museum’s Culture and Conversation Series: The Invincible Garden Ladies.

If it turns out that, like me, you’re eager to hear more from Abra, you’re in luck: this year, she will be CMBG’s Ina and Lew Heafitz Endowed Lecture speaker. Join us this summer to hear about her journey to uncover Black America’s legacy in ornamental horticulture – more details to come!