Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy President's Day

In honor of President's Day, I thought I would take a few moments to honor some of our past presidents, who were also prolific gardeners.

Topping this last has to be the first President of the United States of America (one of my personal heros, for the way that he so selflessly stepped away from power, despite the protests of many compatriots). George Washington farmed at his Mount Vernon estate, where he overcame the poor soils by practicing a relatively novel plan of crop rotations. When he abandoned tobacco farming in about 1765, he switched to wheat and at least 60 other field crops.

Of course, we can not forget Thomas Jefferson, who grew more than 170 varieties of fruit and 330 varieties of vegetables in the gardens at his Monticello estate, and had a special interest in the pea plant. In fact, Jefferson cultivated over 22 varieties of pea. Following the expedition of Lewis and Clark, Jefferson developed a curiosity about the plants of North America, and how they could be used for practical purposes.

In 1825 John Quincy Adams developed the first flower garden at the White House. Adams also planted herbs and vegetables at the White House, as well as ornamental trees.

In 1835, Andrew Jackson established a White House orangery (a type of greenhouse) where tropical trees and flowers could be grown. Jackson also added the Jackson magnolia to the White House grounds. The orangery was demolished in 1857. In 1878, Rutherford B. Hayes started the tradition of planting commemorative trees for Presidential Inaugurations - a tradition that persists today.

As for First Ladies - Eleanor Roosevelt famously began the Victory Garden movement in 1943, when she planted a vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House and Lady Bird Johnson has long been associated with efforts to conserve native plants.

Today, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International is helping to lead a campaign to re-establish a Victory Garden on the lawn of the White House.

Happy President's Day!

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