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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 29, 2011


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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation + "A Rich Spot of Earth": Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello + Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th-Century Methods for Today's Organic Gardeners
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1ST edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269904
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not only did Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison operate farms, all believed agriculture was the noblest occupation and the foundation of democracy. All loved to talk about it, write about it, and spend leisure time (between building a nation) inspecting local farms. Scholars have not ignored this, but British design historian Wulf (The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession) focuses on the agricultural passion that also reflected the political convictions of America's founders. Even while fighting the Revolution and governing the nation, Washington bombarded the manager of his beloved Mount Vernon with detailed instructions and insisted on prompt replies. During years of diplomatic service overseas, Adams and Jefferson toured private gardens and studied the latest agricultural techniques. This obsession went beyond the personal, influencing the design of Washington, D.C., and the White House, where Jefferson wanted only native shrubs and trees. Detailed botanical descriptions, garden layouts, and crop yields of their estates may appeal more to fans of horticulture than of history, but Wulf offers a delightful new perspective on the men we usually associate more with politics than with plants. 16 pages of color illus.; 19 b&w illus. (Apr.)
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Review

"Illuminating and engrossing. . . . The reader relives the first decades of the Republic not only through her eloquent and revelatory prose but through the words of the statesmen themselves."—The New York Times Book Review

"Anecdotes . . . shimmer through Andrea Wulf’s fine story of how gardening and farming shaped the thinking of Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison. . . . Luxurious and sharp-witted." —San Francisco Chronicle

"[A] lively and deeply researched history. . . . Wulf ingeniously connects . . . highbrow political philosophy to the founders’ personal passion for horticulture." —The Washington Post Book World

"A timely and passionate book, with resonances beyond today’s legion of new gardeners. . . . Wulf traces the birth of the modern environmental movement back beyond Thoreau and Muir to the founding fathers’ passion for nature and plants." —The Guardian

"Andrea Wulf shows in her eloquently written and very beguiling Founding Gardeners that the garden, the natural world and the shape of a new nation were, for the men who launched the United States, parts of a whole. . . . She is a writer of considerable grace and breadth of vision, and Founding Gardeners is an excellent portrait of the early years of the federal republic. It will delight the general reader." —The Plain Dealer

"A highly enjoyable and thought-provoking book. Wulf combines a sure knowledge of garden history and 18th-centry politics with a keen eye for domestic detail and evocative description. By focusing the grand narrative of early America on four individuals, she writes the best kind of popular history." —The Irish Times

"It is certain that Wulf has wonderfully illuminated an often overlooked and very important aspect of the founders’ lives, providing new reasons to be inspired by them. . . . Delightful, enlightened reading."
—NashvilleScene.com

"Wonderfully engaging. . . . Breaks new ground." —The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"Fresh and bountiful. . . . Wulf’s delectable anecdotal approach . . . reveals each founder’s personality and perpective, while her dynamic analysis results in a paradigm-altering vision of how ‘the balance of nature’ underlies our founding principles." —Booklist (starred review)

"Wulf offers a delightful new perspective on the men we usually associate more with politics than with plants." —Publishers Weekly

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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If you love history, you will want to read this book.
Catlady
As a Master Gardener and a Certified Landscape Design Consultant, I found this book absolutely fascinating.
Michael E. Brown
It makes you want to visit Mount Vernon or Monticello just to check out the garden!
Bigfoot

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is a pleasure to report that this is one of those unique and rare books that is both a delight to read as well as being chock full of important information and significant insights. The author, a Brit, argues that "it's impossible to understand the making of America without looking at the founding fathers as farmers and gardeners" (p. 4). To support her thesis, the author looks at principally Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, although Franklin, George Mason, and George Wythe (among others) also make appearances. All of these four were deeply involved in agriculture and gardening, in addition to their political lives. I was surprised to learn how grumpy old John Adams turned into a happy camper when working on his farm or in his Philadelphia greenhouse (a gift of Abigail). While I knew that Jefferson was passionate about plants, so it was true of the other three as well, especially Washington who was quite the student of agriculture.

The author focuses upon some key events to develop her argument. Washington's American garden of native plants and shrubs is discussed. The 1786 garden tour that TJ and Adams made in England where they visited many of the famouns English gardens and discovered them to be largely populated with American plants. This was the work of the little-known John Bartram (1699-1777), who shipped American plants and seeds to England from his Philadelphia nursery, as well as supplying the framers. The author's "The Brother Gardeners" looks at these splendid English gardens and the role Bartram played in supplying American plants for them.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By gussie on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Andrea Wulf is a graceful and stylish wordsmith. Her subject is the fact that farming and gardening and garden design were central concerns of all the founding fathers. The focus is on Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. Lots of detail here about their own gardens and estates: the design of the space, the plants they favored for both food and beauty, and the time and energy they spent on these matters. Good chapter on the Lewis and Clark expedition and its impact on gardeners. Lots of detail, but never dull even to this non-gardener.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Brown on May 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Master Gardener and a Certified Landscape Design Consultant, I found this book absolutely fascinating. In a time when our founding fathers were striving to build a nation, gardening helped to give them the peace of mind to escape the rigors of their day to day trials and tribulations. I was amazed at the level of knowledge and enthusiasm that each possessed. This a must read for history lovers and especially for all gardeners. Mike Brown
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joe Keenan on June 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I saw the author presenting her work on C-Span, her presentation was so well done and the ideas so unique and original it whetted my appetite; so I checked out the Bartrams Gardens website and then asked the wife wanted to spin down to Bartrams Garden and look around. The gardens seemed shabby (I was assured this was in keeping with the vision of managment and not a philosophy dictated by funding. Hard to believe) but, I bought the book in the shop and started reading it as soon as I got home. I was knocked back on my heels. The concept (gardening and how it helped shaped the foundation of America) is strikingly original, the writing superb and the history top notch. Everything is woven together with a master storytellers skill. Andrea Wulf is the type of scholar/writer who brings forth a historical tidbit so obscure you wonder how she knew this, how would one even begin to look for such a fact I wondered. But this no self conscious pedant exhibiting her brilliance, no, such obscuria are used perfectly illustrate her point(s). Who knew Bartrams Gardens was integral to the passage of the Constitution? This book succeeds at every level, very, very, impressive book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on August 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you've read much about the founding fathers you hear a lot of little 'mentions' about their gardens. George Washington took time even while fighting the British to send instructions to his plantation manager regarding Mount Vernon. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spent weeks touring gardens while in England, and Jefferson and James Madison later did the same in America. And the gardens at Jefferson's Monticello and Madison's Montpelier are still famous and visited by many today. But all you get in most histories are the little 'mentions,' and it's always left the subject tantalizingly vague for me.

Washington was perhaps the most efficient gardener or farmer, abandoning tobacco early in favor of crops that weren't so destructive to the soil. He also experimented extensively with manures in an effort to replenish the soil. Adams returned home after the presidency and was happiest working on his humble farm. Jefferson was always on the lookout for seeds and plants that might be beneficial in America and traded continually with a large network of friends (as did Benjamin Franklin). Jefferson was especially interested in the new species brought back by Lewis & Clark when they explored the Louisiana Territory and spent much of his time experimenting and trying to grow new and better plants.

Andrea Wulf explores this aspect of the founders that we seldom see except in glimpses. All were extremely interested in the land almost to the point of obsession, and saw nature as a symbol of America's strength and potential. Wulf is clear from the beginning that she makes no distinction between "gardening" and "agriculture," and this occasionally makes it sound like she's forcing connections in presenting her thesis.
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