As a kid I attended the Boston Public Schools. It was an “experience.” Take, for example, our study of history. Each year it started with the explorers and usually ended with the War of 1812. It was nice to learn in High School (Boston Latin) that history actually continued through World War II and beyond.
That being said, reading books about the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War normally wouldn’t really excite me at this point in time because of overexposure to the subject…That is……..until now.
Andrea Wulf is at it again!
In her earlier book “The Brother Gardeners” she provided a wonderful view of the international commerce of botanicals between the American colonies and Britain. (See our review July 2010). It was an unexpected gem and a very satisfying read.
In “Founding Gardeners” Wulf provides a totally different perspective to the founding fathers. She examines their passion and vocation. They were farmers. They loved to grow things. And they were some of the most innovative horticulturalists in North America. Their view of agriculture and gardening is examined in this wonderful new book.
This is one of those books that will change your perspective. (I like that kind of read!)
Normally we think of Washington as the soldier or the president. Here we get a view of him not only as a horticulturalist, but also as a man who used horticulture as a form of therapy. He even encouraged gardening for his men, not only for rations, but because it was comforting. Here was a man not only interested in the welfare of our country but also obsessed with manure (for fertilizer of course! The subject was also important to the other founding fathers as well…)
Before reading “Founding Gardeners”, I had never considered plants as political statements or symbols but this theme came through time and again in this really neat book. The Founding Fathers felt that horticulture could play an important part of the self sufficiency of our young nation. But the thought of setting up gardens to promote very specific values or ideals was an interesting new idea for me.
True to form, Wulf lets us enjoy discovering all of the wonderful little ironies and historical tidbits. Jefferson, for example crafting the Declaration of Independence, yet loving a book written by one of the authors of the Stamp Act, and dreaming of having his own English style garden! We read of Jefferson actually smuggling a variety of rice across the Alps (as Wulf calls it, “horticultural espionage” ) as a form of patriotism.
There are more juicy little tidbits mixed in this delightful volume: Stodgy John Adams happily playing in his garden; Lewis and Clark collecting botanicals on their expedition; and diminutive Madison and his “amazon” wife Dolley ( they never taught that in grade school!) romping across the pages of this great read. Incidentally Madison as environmentalist is also discussed.
As you can see I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Sooner or later someone had to write a book about the connection of the Founding Fathers to horticulture and I am delighted that Andrea Wulf, with her style and approach, was the person to do it. A must read!