A friend of Colah compares her to a tree – grounded, growing, and thriving, despite an ever-changing environment. Like many gardeners, Colah Tawkin has learned many life lessons from plants, especially what they can teach us about resilience and adaptability.
“Plants help us learn how to cope with change,” said Colah. “Failure is a lesson and opportunity to learn how to do things differently.”
Colah was compelled to start gardening after feeling a conviction to find ways to live a more sustainable life. After having her daughter, Isis, she felt a conviction to feed her family by growing her own food. As most first-time gardeners can relate to, she says didn’t have much success and felt discouraged initially, but she didn’t give up. She was able to build her confidence by growing coleus — one of the most prolific house plants — and eventually got a community garden plot where she was able to cultivate her gardening skills.
“My interest in plants began aligning me with my purpose in life and the path that I’m meant to be on. Gardening made me think about things in an entrepreneurial way and aligning my passions…it was the beginning of an upward trajectory.”
In 2019, Colah launched the Black in the Garden Podcast, with the goal of creating a platform to uplift Black voices in the garden podcast space. She speaks with Black plant keepers, artists, entomologists, botanists, parents, environmentalists, authors, and more who share about their passions and lived experiences. When she started gardening as a mom, she found that garden podcasts were largely dominated by White speakers and yearned for a perspective that resonated with her own.
“I was aware of the fact that if something doesn’t exist, then the opportunity there is that you get to create it.”
Colah’s creativity and desire to produce content for Black plant lovers has also manifested in the Black in the Garden Coloring Book, illustrated by Paula Champagne. The book is a collection of peaceful, calming, and beautifully-outlined images of Black gardeners, created with the aim of being used as a tool for Black kids to have visual examples of Black people involved with plants.
“What I aim to inspire is the next generation of plant keepers, horticulturalists, scientists, botanists, arborists, etc., with Black people having representation in those fields. “If [kids] don’t see people that look like them who do it, then subconsciously they do not feel like there is a place for them.”
Growing up, she recalls that she was not exposed to the world of horticulture or gardening, let alone knew people that looked like her who were involved with plants. Her hope is to inspire Black folks of all ages to get involved with gardening and understand that plants can help us become better humans. By taking care of plants, they become our teachers in unlimited ways - from how to be nurturing and practice non-attachment to understanding ourselves.
“I would want [kids] to understand that this is an interest that is not new to us or is a trend we’re just figuring out…it’s an opportunity to connect with our ancestors.”
For anyone who is seeking an inspiring Black gardener or role model, Colah recommends the leaders below:
- Abra Lee @conquerthesoil
- Leah Penniman @leahpenniman from Soul Fire Farm @soulfirefarm
- Ron Finley @ronfinleyhq / Ron Finley Project
Guests from Black in the Garden:
- #BUGLife, Baby! Featuring Nadia Ruffin, our Urban Farm Sista @urbanfarmsista
- George Washington Carver: The Botanical G.O.A.T Pt.1 & Pt.2 w/ Derek “The Chocolate Botanist” @thechocolatebotanist
- Eat What Bugs You: w/ Entomophagy Enthusiast, JaVon
With the intention of imparting legacy-building, embarking on a new phase in her life, and “restoring balance to the imbalance.” Colah and her two kids, Isis and Irie, are soon headed off on an adventure to plant a native tree in every state. “The message I want to convey is that wherever you are, do what you can where you are; start where you are.”