Describe your latest book.
is the intersection of my work as an ecological landscape designer and a student of psychology, bioenergetics, herbalism, and meditation with my personal experience as a patient and survivor with PTSD. The book began as a concept to help people find more connection to the spaces they are in and with the plants around them — something that has been vital to my own growth and healing.
We live in a world today that can be emotionally and physically challenging. Just watching the news can be stressful, but many of us are faced with anxiety, trauma, and grief on a regular basis and we need more restorative space and time. For me, a connection to nature and stewardship of the land has been key to creating my own sanctuary or safe space and I’d love to see that kind of wellness and self-care accessible to everyone. Creating Sanctuary
is both a practical tool for building those spaces at home and an inspirational guide with examples of sanctuary from many regions and walks of life.
What are some of your earliest experiences with nature?
I grew up outdoors, climbing trees, building forts, and splashing around in streams and on river banks. My family went fishing and foraging on a regular basis — my favorite was digging for clams in Port Susan. I played outside in fields and forests more than I was indoors and I had more animal friends than human ones. I saw the goodness in plants and animals and loved to help them out. I remember pruning dead limbs off of trees and spreading seeds of perennial grasses as early as four years old. Though as a kid, gardening was often a punishment. I remember weeding underneath giant juniper tam shrubs after getting in trouble — the memory of being poked on bare skin and the smell of juniper are still strong today.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Ah, so many great memories of getting lost in books! I was one of those kids who took great pride in reading every single book on the summer reading lists. I would take books everywhere — to the garden, on trips, I even hid them behind the hymnal books at church. My favorites were always the coming-of-age stories and teen romances and series. Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
springs to mind.
When did you know you were a writer?
Honestly, I might still be in denial. I found that I loved writing in high school — the schoolwork became much easier when I realized I could just let my thoughts pour onto paper and edit later. When I was approached by Timber Press to write my first book, Free-Range Chicken Gardens
, I wasn’t sure I could do it. It took coaching from friends, family, and editors, and a lot of hard work. It can be scary to be that vulnerable, at least it was and still is for me.
How has your approach to gardening changed over time?
I don’t know that it has changed much as I have always interacted with plants as a steward. I learned early on how to transplant the roses and herbs my mother would move from home to home with us, like we were taking friends with us when we moved. The sentimental and practical values of plants were instilled in me, even with the junipers! To this day, I see plants as allies and ask how can we best take care of them. I encourage everyone to have that relationship.
How did you discover ecological landscape design?
I would say that ecological landscape design found me! After trying to understand how we can apply the natural environment to our domesticated landscapes, I discovered that easy and natural solutions to all of our garden "problems" already exist. It begins with good design, but also comes down to understanding what the land can offer naturally. Often the capacity of an ecosystem doesn’t match the human desire, leaving us with degraded landscapes and frustrated humans. If we start from a place of working within natural systems, then everything can fall into place. My second book, Practical Permaculture
(coauthored with Dave Boehnlein), is a design tool kit that can help in starting your own journey to designing a thriving ecosystem.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
When I was in college I worked as a project specialist helping restore wetlands with King Conservation District. It involved growing plants, teaching, and organizing volunteer projects — my uniform often included waders and Teva sandals, my favorite fashion faux pas. I loved spending the summer days collecting seeds out in the wetlands! We brought them back to grow in a greenhouse attached to a local compost facility. The heat was plumbed from the compost to keep the greenhouse warm. Boy, I stank for days!
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Easy: plants! What is often seen as background or wallpaper is one of my deepest passions. I care deeply about our environment and understand the important role plants can play in healing the earth and the human species — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I love meeting readers who have been touched in some way by my books! I met a woman who read Free Range Chicken Gardens
and was inspired to pursue her dream of a life raising chickens, and other readers who used the book to change laws in their own communities. Just recently I was teaching a workshop in Kansas and one of the students approached me afterwards. She had attended a class in Wisconsin years ago and had her phone ready to show me pictures of the beautiful garden she had been inspired to create after hearing me speak about Practical Permaculture
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Choosing a favorite author is no easy task! Thich Nhat Hahn
and Michael Pollan
are two of my favorite authors doing good work to help both people and the planet. One of my favorite quotes from Thich Nhat Hahn is from his statement to the UN’s Paris Climate Summit in September 2015. He said, “There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth....Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination.” Also, one of my favorite books to recommend is Beyond Religion: Ethics for the Whole World
by the Dalai Lama. Growing up in a family where I experienced multiple religions and cultures, I found this book challenges narratives and belief systems in a simple way that encourages us to be good humans.
Have you ever made a literary (or plant) pilgrimage?
I am known to travel out of my way to meet special plants and visit unique ecosystems. On a trip to the Mediterranean in the mountains of West Cypress, I met an ancient olive tree that was known to locals as the "Kissing Tree." As told by the current steward of the land, the tree is approximately 1,000 years old and is known for protecting a pair of lovers from rival villages. The story goes, the two were seeking refuge to share their forbidden love and the olive tree magically wrapped its branches around them for protection!
On that same magical island, I crossed the border into the Turkish territory of Cyprus to meet an ancient fig tree. Planted in 1299 AD, it is still bearing fruit! She takes up half of the courtyard of an incredible medieval mosque in Famagusta, which is known for its breathtaking 14th-century architecture.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
A specific conversation sticks with me almost every single day. It was during a tough time in my life. I was going through a painful divorce and my confidence was low, both personally and professionally. I was thrust into public speaking after my first book came out and I was terrified. I was at an event where Joel Salatin was also speaking and he had impressed me with his fearless delivery. I asked him how he did it and he said, “Once you stop caring about what other people think, your life will get a whole lot easier.” I took it to apply to everything, not just public speaking.
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is a bestselling author, award-winning ecological landscape designer, and speaker. She owns N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Services, based in the Pacific Northwest, which is known as an innovator and leader in the field of permaculture, sustainable landscape design, construction, and land management. Her work has been recognized by government agencies and industry organizations and makes headlines in national media. She lives near Seattle with her two sons on their permaculture homestead, which is full of functional gardens and rescue animals. Creating Sanctuary
is her most recent book.