Meet Horticulturist Abra Lee | Desert Botanical Garden


Georgia-native Abra Lee is a horticulturalist who developed a passion for uncovering and sharing stories of Black Americans and their contributions to the industry and the American landscape.

Growing up listening to personal accounts from her grandparents and family members, Abra was inspired by the generations who came before her. She saw a need to retell the stories of the inspiring lives of Black men and women who had accomplished careers in the plant world.

She earned a degree in ornamental horticulture from Auburn University. And she has a book “Conquer the Soil: Black America and the Untold Stories of Our Country’s Gardeners, Farmers, and Growers,” set to release in 2026..

Lee will share a few of those stories, including one of the first Black plant shop owners during the roaring twenties and a riveting tale that involves espionage and familial ties to the Harlem Renaissance. Make sure to purchase your ticket for our Read Between the Spines Author Series featuring Abra on March 6 & 7. On March 6, the Garden will host a panel discussion with Arizona State University’s Project Humanities about empowering lives through gardening. The event will feature guest panelist, including Bridget Pettis, founder of Project Roots AZ; Dionne Washington, co-founder of Project Roots AZ; and Angela Brooks, owner and co-founder of MillBrook Urban Farms. Get your tickets here.

Here are five things to know Abra Lee:

1. Interest in Horticulture

Abra grew up in Atlanta but would spend her weekends at her aunt’s home in rural Barnesville, Georgia. Her dad was director of parks for the City of Atlanta. She also spent weekends visiting parks throughout the city. Abra gained an interest in horticulture after watching horticulture students studying a sugar maple tree at Auburn University. 

 2. Horticulture Work

During college, Abra landed an internship as an estate gardener in Atlanta, which exposed her to a high level of horticultural artisanship. She even maintained lawns of NFL owners. Later in her career, she was landscape manager for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport and served as a county extension agent with the University of Georgia. During 2019-2020, she was part of the Longwood Gardens fellowship, a prestigious leadership development program.

 3. Her Interest in Black Garden History

Abra’s mom, who was an educator, gave her a book that told the story of how Auburn University would sneak George Washington Carver at night to teach professors. This sparked a curiosity within her to further look into similar accounts from Black Americans and share them with the public. “I was very much deeply making it my life’s purpose to finding these stories and rich history because it was exciting to me and certainly motivating,” Abra says. She created a social media account that highlights these figures and has also been asked to speak about the topic at several botanical gardens and institutions across the country, including the Garden on March 6 & 7.

4. Does Her Own Research

When Abra started digging in to these stories, she was reading several pieces of literature from W.E.B. Du Bois to civil rights and social justice icons. “In The Souls of Black Folk,’” Du Bois talks about the three gifts Black people brought to the Americas. He talked about the gift of spirit, story, song and their gift of what he called strength and brawn, which was their ability to conquer the soil. The words jumped out the page. That’s who I am. That’s what Conquer the Soil is,” Abra says. This independent research helps her retell stories of historical figures and put them in perspective in our current time.

5. Has a Book Coming Out in 2024

Abra, who started sharing Black Garden History since 2010, has a book coming out titled ‘Conquer the Soil: Black America and the Untold Stories of Our Country’s Gardeners, Farmers, and Growers,’ that spotlights several ordinary and extraordinary stories of Black Americans who have long sown seeds in the plant world. The book is set to come out in 2026.