Of Presidents and Gardening
In sections on seasonal plantings for Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, Mrs. Obama synthesizes her hands-on experience and her goals. She wanted to start a learning garden, especially for the capital’s school children, and to promote healthy food choices and exercise. But the garden also successfully supplied fresh, healthful food for the First Family and numerous White House guests. “So often gardens start with so little,” Mrs. Obama writes. “But the impact that gardens have on our lives—and the life of our nation—is anything but small.
To learn just how big that national impact has been, enjoy Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Wulf profiles Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison to describe how they planned and managed their own land, as well as how their passion for gardens and agriculture shaped their philosophy of America’s uniqueness.
The book is full of fascinating and unexpected scenes. Thomas Jefferson and James Adams dash around southern England touring ornamental gardens, discovering a surprising number of native American species being grown in these deluxe pleasure grounds. Delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia skip town on a hot Saturday, journeying to John Bartram’s famous garden and nursery where they’re inspired to reach a political consensus. James Madison and Dolley host a neighborly barbeque on the lawn of Madison’s Montpelier plantation where Madison enjoys “frolic and romping” under his prized trees.
Sound improbable? The 134 pages of meticulous notes at the end testify to the depth of Wulf’s research, even if you don’t read through them. But don’t miss the story of James Madison’s early plea for sustainability and research-based practices that safeguard our environment. As Wulf puts it,” He saw that even in its vastness, America’s fertile wilderness was not boundless, and could be depleted by overuse.”
Both American Grown and Founding Gardeners will refresh your patriotism and rally your gardening energies.
Either of these reads would make for an engaging and educational option to ‘overwinter’ with.
Written by: Vicki Kennedy, Extension Master Gardener volunteer
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