Thursday, February 7, 2013

Founding Gardeners

While there are many books that can be categorized as either “informational” or “inspirational” there are very few books that are both. I found Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners to be both informational and inspirational in every way. Wulf tells the story of how various gardens and farms shaped the life of those who signed the constitution. These gardens not only provided inspiration for the founding fathers, but also taught these men to be good stewards of their land as they looked forward towards the future of what America would become. As the author notes, “It’s impossible to understand the making of America without looking at the founding fathers as farmers and gardeners”.

Founding Gardeners is a great book!

Inspiration for gardening came to the founding fathers in many ways. I was surprised to find that as Jefferson and Adams sought for inspiration for their gardens while touring English gardens, they found these ornate gardens were filled with mostly American, rather than English, plants. This not only gave these men ideas in how they might use native plants to design their gardens back home, but also somehow encouraged their desire to establish the new nation.

Later, after the United States became more segmented and disjointed as a nation, the founding fathers turned to gardens to help them ease the tensions they worked to unite the nation during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Apparently, after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were deadlocked on the decision of how congress would be organized, a group of them took a morning off to visit John Bartram’s nursery. After visiting the nursery, where they saw plants from all thirteen colonies growing among each other, these same constitutional delegates were able to return to their duties with a renewed desire to approve the Connecticut Compromise, the plan in which enabled for the establishment of the two houses of congress we know today. Though I knew that gardens could be inspirational and a place to relieve myself from the stress of everyday life, I had no idea how important a walk through the garden could be to those men who founded the United States.

One crop the colonists grew was wheat.

Many of the founding fathers looked at their farms and gardens as a reflection on themselves and sought to do all they could to care for their land. They not only cared about their land, but recognized that it needed to be replenished to remain healthy. Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison all sought to incorporate amendments such as manure, seaweed and river silt to their lands in an attempt to keep it fertile and healthy. Though Washington seemed to be the foremost expert on utilizing manure, after seeing the effects of successive tobacco farming on Virginia’s depleted soils Jefferson, Adams and Madison were quick to follow. Near the end of the book Madison gives a landmark address where he identifies the relationship between trees and healthy air, contour farming and erosion protection and emphasizes the importance of giving as much back to the soil as possible. The founding fathers cared about their land because they believed that as each farmer took care of his land, the crops would support him in protecting his rights in America’s new nation.

As the founding fathers looked forward to the future of the United States they were encouraged by the opportunity for growth that expanding westward provided. Each new area of the country that was explored provided the founding fathers with hope and encouragement as they learned about the many flowers, fruit, vegetables and trees now available to them. The westward expansion also provided for the expansion of the Agrarian, or farming, class. As fertile land became available, it provided the opportunity for individuals without fields of his own to claim his or her freedom by establishing farms in new territories. This was the hope of many of the founding fathers – that as citizens of the United States lived off the land they would be able to retain their inalienable rights and remain a free people.

I am grateful for the very ground I garden on

To anyone who enjoys history, gardening, or both I would highly recommend Founding Gardeners. This book is well written, informative, engaging and inspirational. It really helped me to understand how the enjoyment found in gardens could provide the founding fathers with a sense of inspiration, responsibility and a hope of the future of America. Having read this book, I am imbued with greater respect for the small seeds I plant and the soil I turn in my humble garden.


  1. I have this book in my "to be read" pile....I am glad to hear it is good and boy do I love history...I can't wait to read it....great review.

    1. Thanks Donna. I hope you do give it a read!

  2. Hello Jay! your blog is great, I'd love you to join my websites, and you put my link on your site, and so we benefit both.

    I await your response to munekitacate(at)gmail(dot)com



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