All the Presidents' Gardens
How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America
by Marta McDowell
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Pub Date 02 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 02 Jan 2024
This New York Times bestseller shares the rich history of the White House grounds, revealing how the story of the garden is also the story of America.
The 18-acres surrounding the White House have been an unwitting witness to history—kings and queens have dined there, bills and treaties have been signed, and presidents have landed and retreated. Throughout it all, the grounds have remained not only beautiful, but also a powerful reflection of American trends. In All the Presidents' Gardens bestselling author Marta McDowell tells the untold history of the White House grounds with historical and contemporary photographs, vintage seeds catalogs, and rare glimpses into Presidential pastimes. History buffs will revel in the fascinating tidbits about Lincoln’s goats, Ike's putting green, Jackie's iconic roses, Amy Carter's tree house, and Trump's controversial renovations. Gardeners will enjoy the information on the plants whose favor has come and gone over the years and the gardeners who have been responsible for it all. As one head gardener put it, “What’s great about the job is that our trees, our plants, our shrubs, know nothing about politics.”
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 13 members
Synopsis (from Netgalley, the provider of the book for me to review.)
The eighteen acres that surround the White House have been an unwitting witness to history—a backdrop for soldiers, suffragettes, protestors, and activists. Kings and queens have dined there; bills and treaties have been signed; and presidents have landed and retreated. The front and back yard for the first family, it is by extension the nation’s first garden. “All the “Presidents’ Gardens,” tells the untold history of the White House Grounds.
Starting with the seed-collecting, plant-obsessed George Washington and ending with Michelle Obama’s focus on edibles, this rich and compelling narrative reveals how the story of the garden is also the story of America. Readers learn about Lincoln’s goats, Ike’s putting green, Jackie’s iconic roses, Amy Carter's tree house, and much more. They also learn about the plants whose favour has come and gone over the years and the gardeners who have been responsible for it all. Fully illustrated with new and historical photographs and art, refreshingly nonpartisan, and released just in time for an election year, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the red, white, and green.
I have only been to the White House for a very specific reason – a dear friend’s husband was one of the decorators one Christmas for President Obama and I got an invitation to go see the reception. What a night. What a lovely couple --- if only presidents could stay in office indefinitely. (Oh that might backfire if we are speaking of DJT!)
I loved Michelle Obama’s book “American Grown” as I knew very little about the gardens at the White House and I loved her view on growing your own food – this book goes even deeper than that as it shows how those gardens have evolved over the decades. It is bipartisan but I am not sure why it is so important (per the description) in an election year…I doubt that 99.9% of the USA cares about what is in there. But maybe those “few” 350,000 will inhale this book as I did and enjoy it as much as I did. More power to them. (yes, I am Canadian but our Sussex Drive home for the PM does not have any kind of garden like this, for sure!)
Highly recommended for lovers of history and gardening. #shortbutsweetreviews
Marta McDowell’s “All the Presidents’ Gardens” is an amazing historical journey of the White House grounds and how, like the ephemeral landscapes of all public buildings, the gardens have evolved and changed. Who realizes that the famous West Wing was built on the space that a large conservatory used to be? Or how the White House’s pets are accommodated along with past herds of sheep (the lawnmowers of World War I) and cows? Or the addition of an elk sculpture was a tribute to the famous “the buck stops here” phrase?
If you’re a fan of Marta McDowell (who has also chronicled the literary gardens of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,” Francis Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” and Beatrix Potter and Emily Dickinson) you’ll know she has an eye for horticultural detail and the gift of describing the specific plants and their meanings in famous gardens (both imagined and real). This book is actually an update of her well-researched 2016 book — the 2020 overhaul of the Rose Garden and other parts of the grounds required some additions. Every gardener knows that perennials don’t last forever and trees have long but not immortal lives. Plus, not even the White House was immune to the emerald ash borer that plagues the entire nation or the elm diseases of a generation ago. Madison may have planted cabbages, but he would have been amazed to envision modern lawn irrigation/water conservation systems. Servants with watering cans are no longer responsible for the lushness of the Obama’s edible gardens and the expansion of the Kitchen Garden.
This is a terrific book for any gardener planning a visit to Washington, DC or interested in the history of American gardening. 5 stars! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thank you to Timber Press and NetGalley for a free advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review!
All the President's Gardens is a wonderful history book from how the gardens started to the present.
Starting with the seed-collecting, plant-obsessed George Washington and ending with Michelle Obama’s focus on edibles, this is a rich and interesting story of how they began and those that took care of them.
I really enjoyed seeing the pictures of former President's and the First Ladies in the gardens. I also was interested in the old maps. I have never been to the White House, but I was fascinated by the history provided and care given to make the gardens so beautiful.
Planning for a garden at the White House began with President Washington, who expressed a desire to plant a botanical garden. Washington purchased the land for what is now the South lawn from a tobacco planter named Davy Burns, while the North grounds originally belonged to the Pierce family. As the first president to occupy the White House, John Adams ordered the first planting of a garden.
Thomas Jefferson then undertook a complete redesign of the garden. He started the tradition of planting trees when he planted hundreds of seedling trees, although none of Jefferson's trees is believed to have survived to the present day. It was his idea to plant groves of trees. He picked the location for the flower garden, and fences and walls were eventually built where he had specified. In addition, Jefferson built an arc of triumph flanked by two weeping willow trees on the southeast corner of the grounds that are no longer standing.
President James Monroe increased tree planting on the White House grounds and hired Charles Bizet, who is considered to have been the first White House gardener. When John Quincy Adams followed Monroe into office in 1825, he replaced Bizet with John Ousley, who remained the White House gardener for the next 30 years. Adams was the first president to develop the flower gardens that Jefferson had earlier laid out and was also the first to plant ornamental trees. As an avid gardener himself, Adams personally enjoyed planting seedlings that included fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables.
During the 1830s, President Jackson became a big supporter of the gardens and hired several labourers to assist White House gardener John Ousley. During Jackson's term elm, maple and sycamore trees were planted for the first time. In addition, Jackson had a bygone orangery built to accommodate indoor, year-round gardening.In order to commemorate the nation's centennial in 1876, President Hayes began the tradition of planting commemorative trees. Different presidents and gardeners added their own touches to the White House's landscape."Gardeners
create, preserve, and restore. Gardens beautify, nourish, and memorialise."
Fascinating read. I've now been through this book twice and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in gardening and/or history. Heck, just a curiosity about the White House itself apart from its multiple residents. That 18-acre site has an interesting, often complex history all its own. You'll read about each of its residents from Abigail and John Adams through modern times. Even George Washington, who never lived there, had a hand in the design and what went into the infant gardens at the time of the building's construction. Known by many as the "People's House," each resident has had a hand in the gardens' evolution and change. From basic gardens through more modern days when, say, watering is handled via modern technology rather than workers. As noted, each Presidential family's contributions and changes are noted but I particularly enjoyed that the largely unknown individuals in charge of keeping the gardens well and productive were highlighted and noted.
I'll also note that the book's focus is the gardens themselves. The plants, flowers, landscaping, and such are the key. In other words, it's non-political. I could go on rather endlessly about the fascinating topics discussed, from the sheep used to mow at one point up through modern times, but will stop there. The author obviously knows gardening and how to research. There are also abundant charts of what is planted, where and when, as well as a detailed index. And, yes, there are photos. Again, I liked that the photos showing some Presidents and families were largely outnumbered by those solely of the gardens themselves and those in charge. A nice reminder that the White House gardens are always evolving, always changing. For instance, ways modern technology have impacted the gardens and their care is noted. And....so much more.
Bottom line, if you enjoy gardening and/or history, you will probably thoroughly enjoy this book. I came at it from the history buff angle and found plenty to like, not to mention learned a bit about gardening and flowers and plants as I read. While there were certainly slow moments, probably due more to personal interests and knowledge than any shortcoming of the book, it was an interesting look at a place I've only viewed from outside the fence. Thanks #NetGalley and #TImberPress for taking me on a virtual visit behind the fence. I thoroughly enjoyed that backstage look, so to speak, and will be recommending this book to my local library.
An extremely well researched book with great stories of those responsible for the White House Gardens. From the beginning to war time and peace time, the gardens have followed the history of the rest of the US. Fascinating stories and I will be purchasing to enjoy all of the beautiful pictures. This is a great book for both US History buffs and the gardeners in your life. Thanks to #NetGalley for an Ebook ARC in exchange for an honest and independent review.