April 21, 2022
Jasmine Jefferson’s first memories of gardening were, like many people’s childhood memories, filled with some embarrassing moments with her family. “Here in Florida, a lot of houseplants that people like to have grow on the side of the road,” she says. “My ‘normal’ was my mom and my grandma driving around with shovels and bags in the trunk — it was kinda suspect!” she laughs. “I didn’t know that wasn’t normal until I was with my friends and I was like, What, you guys don’t do this all the time?”
Once her grandmother passed away, leaving Jefferson with the collection of plants she’d amassed over the years, it sparked something inside her. “I just became really hyper-focused on caring for her plants,” Jefferson remembers. It was almost like after that day, Jefferson became a gardener. “One of the aloe plants did so well! Knowing what I know now, I know aloe plants don’t need my help. But for some reason I thoughtI was the reason it was growing so well, and I wondered what else I could grow.”
Today, she’s growing both a well-established garden of her own and an online community for other gardeners. In just a few years, Jefferson’s Instagram account Black Girls With Gardens blossomed into a community of more than 180,000 likeminded growers of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, many of whom felt at one point or another like they didn’t quite have a place in their local gardening communities.
Coming from a family filled with avid gardeners (her mother grew roses, her grandmother liked lilies and tulips, and her grandfather was fond of vegetables), it seemed only natural that Jefferson would eventually discover her own green thumb. But what she didn’t anticipate was eventually outgrowing her own family’s interest in gardening. “Ironically, my family got tired of me talking about plants!” Jefferson laughs when asked about what first prompted her to take her gardening hobby online.
In 2017, she thought, “Social media is a thing, let me just see who else is out here growing.” But on all the gardening pages, Jefferson remembers, “I just didn’t see people who looked like me very often.”
So she decided to start her own gardening page, where other Black female gardeners from all over could connect and see themselves in the gardening space, in a way that Jefferson didn’t in her local gardening clubs or on other social media accounts. “In that first week, it was so well-accepted and received, I realized Okay, this is going to be more than me just talking about plants,‘” she laughs.
Jefferson never intended to center herself on her account; rather, she knew from day one that Black Girls With Gardens would be a resource for the community she was building. “I decided we’d always provide representation, inspiration, support, and education. And any avenue, any lane that we go into, this is what we’re going to do. Anyone interested in growing anything, I’m going to try to be that one-stop resource for them.”
What she’s grown today is an account filled with just that: Black Girls with Gardens. All types of gardens. Smiling behind their monstera plants, watering their terrace herb gardens, tending to raised vegetable beds in colorful backyards. Jefferson was searching for this type of community, and when she couldn’t find it, she grew it herself — as a gardener does.
“I like to use Instagram for the lovely pictures — and you see all that — but in the comments, that’s where a lot of things go down,” Jefferson says of how Black Girls With Gardens operates as a true resource for aspiring backyard gardeners. “If someone is trying to learn to grow garlic, you’ll see individuals sharing their tips from what they’ve learned from their grandparents, from their master gardener programs.”
Jefferson continues to share her own knowledge, too. “I’m also always learning, trying different growing methods and techniques, so if I learn something and master it or feel comfortable sharing the information, I’ll share it.” But she’s conscious of meeting people where they’re at in their gardening journey. On a recent post about her own successful harvests, the caption reads:
Every year you will drop the ball at some point in your garden, but you don’t have to stay there. Gardening is a rubber ball and it will always bounce back up to you. So don’t be so hard on yourself for “failing”, it’s just another lesson under your belt. Happy planting ❤️
And it seems that her followers appreciate this honesty just as much as they appreciate her tips and tricks for getting that perfect garden plot. There are dozens of responses like:
I needed to hear this!!!🙏🏾👏🏾❤️
Thank you for this!! I always beat myself up for all of my “failures” in my gardening and I just need to see it as a learning opportunity 💚👩🏻🌾
I’ve learned so much about patience and resilience from my garden. Every year there are challenges I’ve learned to deal with, and new ones I haven’t. It’s a great life lesson.
Thank you for your words of encouragement! They’re so needed for me this season. I’m late planting stuff in my big main bed.
“That’s who I create content for. I try to pull everything I can from the community. If I see a comment issue popping up, I try to pool my resources and share that information.” That’s what makes Black Girls With Gardens so unique; it’s not just a place to showcase the finished product — the lush, bountiful gardens overflowing with ripe fruits and vegetables — it’s a place where people can be frustrated, they can vent about losing all their crops but one, they can feel lonely and isolated and ask for help. It’s something that is, especially today, a rarity in the picture-perfect world of social media: a community that listens without judgment, that finds answers to questions by working together, that encourages people to get off their phones and get outdoors — and even to find one another.
“I’ve heard people say, I found someone who is in the same city as me, we’re growing together, and this is my friend now,” Jefferson says of her growing community. “It blows my mind every time.”
There’s something else that fuels Jefferson’s love of gardening, something a bit more deeply rooted and complex: the concept of ancestral gardening, or growing foods that were grown by your parents, your grandparents, and your ancestors before them. “When we talk about ancestral gardening, we’re talking about things you know that your ancestors grew, and things that are culturally important to you,” she explains.
When considering why it’s so important to see racial and cultural diversity in the gardening space, ancestral gardening comes into play in a big way. “I understand the psychology of it: you’re not going to do something if you don’t see someone like yourself doing it,” Jefferson says. “You’re going to mentally, unconsciously, feel like it’s out of reach for you.” But by encouraging her followers to remember their ancestors, their heritage, the idea that they belong in this space that their families have inhabited for generations, Jefferson is also encouraging them to take their own place in the gardening world.
“I want to encourage individuals to see that gardening isn’t black and white, there isn’t an aesthetic to it,” she muses. “You don’t necessarily have to grow tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers every year. […] There are cultural things that are just different; we eat different types of greens, but for some reason we feel like certain greens that are culturally important to us aren’t as nutrient-dense as kale or things like that. Having that cultural competency is important when telling people hey, you don’t have to shy away from things that your grandmother cooked. I think that’s important in order to make people feel included when we’re talking about gardening in general.”
Through gardening tips and practices like seed sharing (which is the exchange of seeds from gardener to gardener, sometimes in different areas), Black Girls With Gardens is helping people grow their own food in a way that’s both healthy and climate-conscious. “Doing our part, having a small garden in your backyard, you’re promoting the health of the ecosystem — you can even create your own small ecosystem,” she says. She cites things like healthier soil and providing flowers for bees as just a few of the the benefits of creating this type of backyard ecosystem, as well as the more obvious outcome: fresh, nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
“We’ve been through different eras where we want everything fast and efficient, and all of a sudden climate change is an issue, our health is at the worst it’s ever been,” she muses. “It’s a socioeconomic issue, it’s a physical issue.” She thinks that it’s not just food, but growing your own food, that’s part of the answer. “I always try to encourage individuals to let gardening be whatever it is to you,” she says. “Whether that’s wellness, whether you want to feed your family better food, whether it’s more cost-efficient, or if you just need the physical activity. Whatever it is for you, let gardening be that.”
“At the very least, gardening makes you feel better about the world,” she muses, sounding hopeful. “I’m always busy, when I sit down to meditate, my mind is thinking of so many different things. But if I’m in my garden and I’m watering flowers, I can do it for 30 minutes because I wasn’t thinking about anything. That right there—the mental wellness aspect—is just one of many ways gardening can help.”
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