A jewel of a gardener
Local radio host shares her passion for digging in the dirt
“I’m Jennifer Jewell and this is ‘In a North State Garden,’ celebrating the art, craft and science of gardening in Northern California…”
Early-rising local gardening enthusiasts are treated every Saturday and Sunday morning to Jennifer Jewell’s calm, confident, friendly voice—backed up by relaxing guitar music—announcing the beginning of her four-minute-long, interview-based radio show on KCHO 91.7 FM and its companion NPR station, KFPR 88.9 FM in Redding.
The 44-year-old mother of two young daughters has been a familiar weekend fixture on Northstate Public Radio for about two years. She secured the little gem of a job after responding to a call from KCHO/KFPR for volunteers to write public service announcements shortly after she moved to Chico in the summer of 2007 from Colorado with her husband and children.
“I interviewed with [program director] Joe Oleksiewicz,” Jewell recalled, “and told him my ‘ulterior motive’ ”—which was to do a gardening show at some point, an idea Jewell had had tucked away in her mind ever since her days as a freelance garden writer for various glossy magazines, and as garden editor for Colorado Homes & Lifestyles.
“He heard my credentials,” said Jewell, who has also been “an active gardener” for 25 years, “and he said, ‘Forget the PSAs—let’s do [the radio show]. Can you come up with stories even though you’ve only been here two months?’ ”
Jewell has had no problem coming up with stories. Her weekly radio show, and its companion Web site, www.jewellgarden.com (which also features a monthly calendar of regional gardening-related events) has been chock-full of interesting people and subjects. There’s been Denise Kelly, owner of local nursery The Plant Barn, talking about raised-bed gardening, Redding vertical-gardening expert Eileen Barry, and horticulturist/arborist Rico Montenegro’s discussion of pruning heirloom fruit trees at the historic Camden House orchards in Whiskeytown.
Jewell writes the stories on her Web site to complement the content of her radio program, for the listener whose appetite has been whetted and wants to know more about a particular person or subject.
“It’s nice to have a little ‘bite’ of a four-minute show, and if it is of interest to someone, they can go to my Web site,” said Jewell. “And I try to not be too technical and not too superficial—I try to find a balance.”
Jewell said that her main intent is to enlighten people interested in gardening to the wealth of information and resources available in the North State area.
Of her radio and Web work, Jewell added: “Its whole purpose is not to be an additional expert in the world of horticulture, though I am very knowledgeable. I wanted to make all of the gardeners in our region aware of all the people doing really interesting things. … My job is to be an advocate of gardening.”
Her first interview subject back in January 2008, she said, was retired Chico State biology professor Wes Dempsey—“a genius of a person, never-ending in his giving back [to the community]”—whom she met on a university arboretum tour he guided.
“One of the things that is deeply satisfying to me,” offered Jewell, “is to highlight someone revered in their small area but relatively unknown in the broader area”—people such as Dempsey, and Honcut wildlife biologist Brian Williams and his “wildlife-friendly” garden, “master composters” Ward and Cheryl Habriel of Paradise, and Bill Reynolds and Angela Handy of the Butte Rose Society.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Why don’t you tell me what to do in our gardens, a very precise list?’ ” said Jewell. “The problem is that … in the North State we have almost every garden zone [that exists] in the country. I am sensitive to the different weathers [in the area] and I want people to see their local experts. I want them to see Denise Kelly, or John and Jerry Mendon [owners of Mendon’s Nursery in Paradise]. As a gardener, a good independent nursery is going to be your best resource—or your local horticultural or plant society.
“I try to be nonjudgmental,” Jewell added, “but you will never see me recommend or profile a big-box store. I’m an organic gardener. You will almost never hear me recommend that you put Roundup all over your lawn!
“I’m doing this for love and fun, and the belief that home gardeners improve the world. The simple act of planting a plant in your garden improves the world.”
Jewell is quick to add, though, “If I had my preference, that one plant would not be an invasive pest of a plant, and it would feed either you or the insects and animals in some useful way as well as look good doing so. … [T]hat’s not too much to ask of one plant in your back yard, is it?”