21 February 2016

Founding Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf

Posted by Callan Bentley

fgI just finished this book, about the botanical and agricultural predilections of United States ‘founding fathers’ George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. Three of these farmed and gardened in Virginia, one in Massachusetts. Some were federalists, others republicans who championed the rights of the states. Some were slave owners, others not. All saw gardening as foundational to a sustainable democracy. This history examines the revolutionary war and the early years of the U.S. in the light of all things botanical, and quotes primary sources convincingly to show that the founding fathers would rather be planting trees, harvesting vegetables, and sharing seeds that governing the young nation.

The book is well written. Topically, I found it less engaging than some of my other recent reads (and even another book by Wulf, a biography of Alexander von Humboldt), but it held my attention anyhow. I was pleased to see some of my own gardening instincts reflected in decisions Jefferson made – in particular about the balance between wild and cultivated plants on one’s land. If you’re a gardener with a taste for history, this is a book for you.