This post was originally shared last autumn. Since then I have thought of it several times. As the holidays approach, this would be a great gift consideration for the gardener in your life … or for you. 😉 Once the moving boxes are no longer a daily decoration in my home, I plan to go back and read this book again. Yes, I liked it that much.
This past summer we were able to take a last minute trip to our nation’s capitol. Between visits with several different friends, we made stops at various sites around the area. Many I had been to before, but a few were new. For our kids, they were all new and most were about times in history they had yet to learn about in class. A few of the sites, however, really peaked their interests.
The White House was a favorite as they had heard of it before (my husband often watches reruns of The West Wing on Netflix). The kids found it even more interesting when we finally convinced them that the President is a real person, not just an actor, AND that he actually lives in the big white house behind the gates.
A lot of the history I know about the White House itself, which is not much, has to do with random facts throughout history that I have picked up while reading. I love history, hearing the how’s and why’s as to events, details that make it come alive in my imagination.
When I began reading All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America I expected to pick up a few tidbits here and there on the gardening practices used on the White House grounds and long lists of plants used. In general I thought it would be a boring read that would require cups of coffee to help me stay awake. What I found surprised me and showed me a new way of looking at this home that has become a symbol over the years.
Gardening history is not something I have been exposed to previously. In my past there were mentions of how the Native Americans planted and how the early settlers gardened to provide for the table during winter months. I have also visited sites such as Mt. Vernon (Jefferson’s home) and the Biltmore Estate, learning about how they landscaped, invented, studied and produced tools, methods and plants that we now think are common. However, I never had found a book that actually walked a reader through the history of gardening in a particular place and how the look of the gardens were also affected by events of the day. As it turns out, I had exposed myself to a book that kept me up at nights, long after I really wanted to be asleep, exploring our nation’s history and the people and gardens it contained.
Marta McDowell did a thorough job of researching the various gardeners, plants, sources, designs, struggles, Presidents’ preferences that have resulted in the gardens and the house we now see today. She showed how the political events of the day – protests about wars, the Great Depression, the war of 1812, etc.- also had a result in shaping the look and use of the gardens and grounds. The reader was taken along a path showing the various gardening styles and philosophies, and how they flowed from one style to the next – English, Italian, french, formal, practical, native and exotic.
All the Presidents’ Gardens quickly became one of my favorite history and gardening books. I loved the flow, the story behind the story feel, and how it all felt tied together in a smooth fashion. It was so seamless that I often forgot when a chapter had ended and another began. There were a few points that I wondered why they were mentioned, only to find a few paragraphs or pages later how it was all tied together.
All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend for you to read. You will have to wait a bit though, as it will not scheduled to be released till April 27, 2016. You are able to pre-order it now so you will be able to receive one of the first copies.
I also learned that the White House holds a free garden tour twice a year. This past year’s Spring tour was in mid-April, so you may be able to get in on this year’s tour if you keep watch for the announcement. (The fall tour was held in October.)