Cover Image: All the Presidents' Gardens

All the Presidents' Gardens

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Great read for those who love history and horticulture. Interesting information about the USA Presidents and the gardens they enjoyed at the White House.

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In All the President’s Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Gardens Have Grown with America, Marta McDowell chronicles the horticulture of the most famous House in America. Although the official President’s residence wasn’t completed until John Adams took office, the author begins by discussing the landscape layout of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and concludes with Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden. The book covers the particular and peculiar tastes of every First Family including Thomas Jefferson’s pet mockingbird, Dick and the beginning of the Kennedy Rose Garden. This incredible volume not only contains in-depth descriptions of the plants placed around the White House, but also has beautiful illustrations and photography throughout the narrative that make this edition even more enjoyable.

All the Presidents’ Gardens is an informative, interesting, and inspiring read. It is well-written and well-researched. The storyline is punctuated with amazing pictures which only adds to its charm. All the President’s Gardens is full of historical tidbits that make the reader wish the book was longer. The flora and fauna around the White House are just as colorful as the people who live there. I love All the Presidents’ Gardens, and anyone who loves history or horticulture will love it too, I highly recommend it.

I was given a free copy by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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In this history of the White House gardens, Marta McDowell explores the architectural and botanical histories of some of the most famous gardens in the United States from the inception of the White House through the Biden administration. She lumps presidents together to connect larger historical and narrative threads, bringing various presidents, administrations, and political eras together. McDowell gives the unsung heroes of this history -- the gardeners -- their due in this book, focusing on their collaborations with the president to expand, redesign, and modernize the White House gardens. Including several primary images and maps throughout the book provides a visual representation of the history of the White House Gardens and clearly demonstrates the changes in the garden’s design. McDowell’s attention to detail and the historical record does not go unnoticed, and fans of garden design will enjoy her appendices on the chief gardeners and the botanical histories of the White House (when certain plants were planted in the gardens). McDowell’s history of the White House gardens will pair well with any presidential or First Lady biography or anthology and any history of the White House, providing unique insights into the history of the White House’s exterior over the last two centuries.

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All the Presidents’ Gardens by Marta McDowell – A Refreshing and Lovely Read

Maybe it was the winter season that piqued my interest in reading Marta McDowell’s book All the Presidents’ Gardens. With our garden at rest, it was a lovely time to read about the history of the Presidents’ gardens at the White House over the last 235 years.

I absolutely loved reading this book. It was a combination of history, gardening, with a little bit of biographies mixed-together. It was refreshing to see the love of gardening from our Presidents, their wives, and families, and how they enjoyed the fruits of the labor of those who executed design plans. What a huge task for the men and women who designed the gardens over the years. I found it interesting to learn how everyone’s background, education, and experience influenced the designs, selection of plants, and the additions of other elements to make the gardens what they wanted.

As a gardener, I found I connected with the Presidents and their families that had a love for gardening. I appreciated their desire for seed and plant preservation. I came away from reading this book with a new appreciation for how gardening is passed down from one generation to another.

If you love gardening, history, biographies, or design, I highly recommend All the Presidents’ Gardens by Marta McDowell. This was a lovely and refreshing book to read.

I would like to thank Timber Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read a complimentary copy of All the Presidents’ Gardens by Marta McDowell. I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

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Thoroughly enjoyed this title (4.5 up to a 5) and the history it serves up, as well as the many rabbit trails I went down while reading it! I was expecting to be moderately interested in it in my typical "obscure random non-fiction trivia" genre, but I was impressed by the meticulous research and the engaging way it was written. Already purchased for a gift for a family member to enjoy, too!

My thanks to NetGalley and Timber Press for the opportunity to preview this title in exchange for my honest review.

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This is a well-researched and interesting exploration of gardening in America through the lens of the White House Gardens. It was fun to read about how the gardens have changed over time and from president to president. I definitely had “the room where it happens” from Hamilton running through my head during the section about why Washington D.C. was chosen as the U.S. capital. I hadn’t realized that landscape gardening was initially seen as more of a gentleman’s occupation and was therefore something that many of the early presidents were directly involved with. In later years, these duties were shifted to the First Lady and/or the head gardener.

A few moments that stood out for me were George Washington surveying the land where the White House would eventually stand, John Quincy Adams desperately trying to learn the art of landscaping, the Roosevelt children terrorizing the grounds, Nellie Taft establishing Japanese cherry trees in Washington D.C., Ellen Wilson’s rose garden, the WWI sheep flock, and Michelle Obama bringing back the kitchen garden. It was interesting to see what special considerations White House gardeners have to keep in mind—like helicopters landing on the lawn.

The book includes lots of illustrations, maps, diagrams, and photographs that help build context and show what the White House and grounds have looked like (or were planned to look like) at different points in American History.

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This is a delightfully detailed account of presidential horticulture. There are so many fun tidbits and though the text is dry at times it is enriched with helpful photographs and illustrations

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I am obsessed with US Presidents and the White House. In the last 5 years I have been to all the presdential libraries except the two in California.This book was perfect for me. I appreciate McDowells writing style and the comfortable way the information is presented. I am not usually a fan of nonfiction unless it is a memoir but this was great for me!

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*4.5 stars*

Outstanding blend of US history and the gardens that went with it…

I’d read this author’s book on ‘The Secret Garden’ about the inspirations that the author blended into the story. That was an excellent read and when I saw this come up on NetGalley, I was thrilled to receive an electronic copy of this book. And even more thrilled with what I found…

The author narrowed the focus of the book to the changes that affected the gardens of the White House. Not a political book per se, but a recounting of the changes that the presidents and their administrations made during their tenure. Starting in the 1790’s to recent updates by the 45th president, changes and overhauls were described in details with enlightening pictures and photos to bring the narrative to life.

This was, after all, a book about the grounds and gardens, so if you are any kind of a gardener – or wish you were – this will be a wonderful walk through the planning and execution of a myriad of overhauls and changes through the years. If you are a history buff too, well, this will be even more of a draw. The writing was full of minute details, told in a conversational, easy style that made it an entertaining and informative read. Also included were rich lists of sources, citations, biographies of the gardeners as well as details on the plants, shrubs and trees and plant information that I am looking forward to exploring.

Whether you agreed with the decisions that were made (or not), the results spawned a range in emotions and acceptance for those who lived through the changes. I would love to see the White House and its gardens in person, to appreciate all the work and history that made the gardens what they are today…

*I happily reviewed this book
**Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press

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Gardens can tell the story of a place and the White House gardens tell the story of a country and the Presidents.
A fascinating and well researched book.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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I will admit I am very fascinated by The White House. I have read many books on the subject but never one on the gardens and grounds. I enjoyed this book and it is filled with so much information that you will be refercing it again and again. I did receive this book as an ARC and it was on my Kindle which was a bit of a drawback as it was black and white and kind of hard to see some of the photos. I can only imagine this as a hardback with colored photos but it would make a great coffee table book. I would purchase this book for my mother who loves to garden, I know she would love all the information in it. Thank you Netgalley and Timberpress for the ARC.

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A fun look at the history of the White House gardens and the reflective styles of the different heads of state.
I appreciated all the drawings, illustrations, and photographs that were included to emphasize the original work, reconstruction projects, and new designs.
McDowell’s book is a valuable addition to the history of the president home and accompany accouterments.
Plants aren’t political which might make the gardens the only truly happy place in DC.

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There are so many ways to learn about history and many different approaches. The author of this book looks at the White House gardens and how they have grown and changed along with the country.

This book has many illustrations that drew me in. The text moves through history starting with the 1790s (after the information at the front of the book). The garden’s story progresses through the 1990s and beyond.

Find out about what was happening in this garden during times as disparate as George Washington’s era, the Civil War period, the time of the Suffragettes, the days of Victory Gardens, the Kennedy Rose Garden’s creation and more leading to the present. 

This author knows her subject and includes much of interest in these pages. All The Presidents Gardens will be enjoyed by both gardeners and American history buffs. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and Timber Press for this title. All opinions are my own.

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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.

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We have all heard about witness trees but how about witness gardens? All the Presidents" Gardens explores how the grounds around the White House have changed over the years. Beautiful photos too! There is something that will interest everyone in this book!

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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."

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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. 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.

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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.

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I found this book very informative, it gave lots of background on the history of the White House complete with facts and photos both historical and modern that show the changes the gardens have gone through.

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For this and the rest of my reviews, visit

Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for the complimentary copy of this book. I am voluntarily leaving this review.

According to Goodreads, I read this book back in 2018 and gave it four stars, but that was back in the days when I didn’t review books, just rated them, so I was curious to revisit the new edition and see why I gave the book four stars.

I like gardens, and my parents were avid gardeners, but I am not what you call a garden afficionado. However, I am interested in most aspects of Presidential history and how things came to be. McDowell has done her research and provided the reader with a wealth of information surrounding the creation and development of the White House Gardens. There are numerous sketches and photos sprinkled throughout the book.

While I enjoyed the first few chapters, which concentrates on the first 100 years of White House gardens, their inception, creation and expansion, it really wasn’t until I got to the 1900’s that my interest was fully absorbed in the subject. The enormous changes the Theodore Roosevelt administration made by getting rid of the massive greenhouses and erecting what is now called The West Wing, along with the subsequent changes made by each successive presidential administration was really interesting.

Whilst one thinks of the White House gardens as a static thing that never changes, this book shows and tells what each administration of the 20th and 21st centuries has done to put their personal touches on the grounds of the presidential residence, from the Japanese cherry trees to Jack Kennedy’s rose garden to George H.W. Bush’s horseshoe pit, to Michelle Obama’s edible garden. This book is updated to include the Trump administration’s efforts to update the gardens.

Overall, I still give this book four stars, whether you love gardening or presidential history. Recommended!

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