This year, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens will present its eleventh annual Heafitz lecture, “Planting Your Path,” with Abra Lee, online and in-person at the Gardens, Aug. 12, 2-3:30 p.m.
Horticulturist, speaker, writer, and founder of Conquer the Soil, Abra Lee is a graduate of Auburn University College of Agriculture with a B.S. in horticulture. She has led public horticulture teams at two of the nation’s largest airports and is a member of the prestigious Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows. In this conversation, she will discuss her garden roots from the dirt-road country of the rural South to a lesson in family history that helped define her life’s purpose. It’s a story of failure, persistence, and how taking her mama’s advice to “don’t be no educated fool” led her on a journey to uncover Black America’s legacy in ornamental horticulture.
“These are everyday Americans who loved plants so much they made them their life’s work,” she explains. “They succeeded against every odd during the Jim Crow era and didn’t just survive—they thrived.” Lee continues, “Many were also legacy children of agriculture and horticulture—their parents and families had plant businesses. Most important, these folks knew they needed each other to succeed and very much had a ‘lift as you climb’ attitude versus one based only in self-interest. I love that about them and wish we saw that more today.”
Lee, who says she’s “a storyteller by choice and a horticulturist by chance,” is a compelling, entertaining, and inspiring speaker. “These are some exceptional plant people with exceptional life stories,” she says. “This isn’t just Black garden history—it’s American history. My intention is that people feel uplifted and inspired when this conversation is over. If they leave feeling that way, then I have done my job.”
And how does she feel about coming to Maine? “I have loudly and proudly run the streets of my beloved Southern states and with sincere regret have never spent time in New England. I have always wanted to visit Maine—I have only heard how beautiful it is; to finally see the state in person is a dream come true,” she says. “Plus, the level of hospitality I have encountered through the people at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has been top tier; there is no way I would have turned down this invitation.”
The Gardens’ Daniel Ungier, vice president of Guest Experience and Education adds, “Abra tells a story of American gardens and landscapes that is largely unknown and unseen by many gardeners and nature lovers. We are excited to have Abra join us and better shine a light on the overlooked story of Black garden history.”
As an entrancing storyteller, Lee has a devoted following, both online and in person. She describes her organization, Conquer the Soil, as “a community that combines history, art, fashion, and pop culture to communicate and uplift the art of ornamental horticulture,” and describes herself as a “self-proclaimed horticulturist extraordinaire that is half country bumpkin, half bougie, occasionally extra, and inherently Southern.”
The event is scheduled from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 12. This year, the annual Heafitz lecture is being simultaneously offered as an in-person event and livestreamed online. Those interested in attending can register for either format online at shop.mainegardens.org or by calling 207-633-8008.
At nearly 325 acres, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the largest public garden in New England. Voted #1 on TripAdvisor, the nationally recognized public garden is located in Boothbay, Maine. The mission of the Gardens is to inspire meaningful connections among people, plants, and nature through horticulture, education, and research. Visit us at MaineGardens.org