Here it is late on New Years Eve 2012 and I’m writing to you about a great book I finally just finished reading. I’ve been inching my way along this book, Founding Gardeners since early summer and I really could have finished sooner but have taken my time with the reading instead.
I initially heard about the book from Susy at Chiot’s Run and thought I’d give it a go after her good reviews. She was right, the book was worth it!
The book focuses on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. There were only two downsides to the book: I thought I had more to read when I realized that a good chunk of the book at the end were footnotes (footnotes are good but not when you are expecting more book to read), and James Madison gets the shortest amount of pages in the whole book. It was like James who? He did what? Oh, he had a garden and incorporated his slave quarters into it? (Yes, you forget the whole slave thing until it gets promptly put in your face and remember just who the founding fathers were.)
The book discusses each of the presidents and their roles in their political offices but also their roles as farmers, gardeners and the gentry they were (though John Adams was apparently the less affluent of them all). Some of the more interesting aspects of the book included the design of Washington D.C. and just how divided the politicians were about it. Thomas Jefferson wanted a less grand design than what Pierre Charles L’Enfant wanted when designing the city, and instead wished for a more agrarian viewpoint instead. While many of the founding fathers had toured Europe and were schooled in the botanical aspects of gardening there they also held fast their agrarian roots and felt that farming and living off the land was going to be the path to America’s future.
Another aspect was how much of what is now called organic gardening was done then. It reiterated that chemical applications are definitely a more modern invention to gardening and farming and that the techniques utilized today in the ‘organic’ world were utilized by the founding fathers.
A couple of times I wondered why a few of them were president, particularly Thomas Jefferson. The author writes in a few instances of a Jefferson who is seemingly at the White House daydreaming about Monticello and his desires to be back farming. All of them seemed to enjoy private life much better than public life!
There were other instances more botanical in nature that I enjoyed: discussing the Bartram’s (John and William) and their discoveries such as the Franklin tree, but also of Jefferson’s dispatching of Lewis & Clark on their expedition across the continent. Images of the duo sending back plant specimen and fruit back to Jefferson to cultivate and send around the world made me feel as if I was walking and riding across the Great Plains with them. I’m going to have to find a book about them to read I think.
I have to say I wanted more after reading this, wanting to know a bit more about the plants cultivated, in particular the natives that were discovered early in the country’s history. I guess I’ll have to look around for more books soon!
In all I’d definitely recommend this book if you are into history, but if you are more interested in the gardening aspects I would also say this isn’t a snoozy non-fiction book….lots of interesting facts to learn!
Happy New Year from Texas and I hope 2013 is fantastic in the gardening world!