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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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"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."
"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
Top Customer Reviews
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. One chapter deals with the deadlocked Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, which the author suggests might have been able to reach compromise due to a visit of some key delegates to Bartram's nursery for a refreshing break. While some have criticized this suggestion, I found it interesting, and whether one agrees with it or not does not affect the great value and enjoyment of the book.
Next we follow the 1791 New England purported garden tour of Jefferson and Madison, which was probably more political than botanical. A chapter discusses the selection and creation of Washington, D.C. The final chapters focus on Jefferson and Madison. Of course who better than Jefferson to organize and direct the Lewis and Clark expedition which resulted in a treasure trove of new trees and plants. TJ's retirement at Monticello is for me one of the most interesting stages of his life, and he was extensively involved in agricultural research during this period--as an "experimental gardener" to use the author's description. And the more shadowy Madison emerges as the father of the American environmental movement with his 1817 address to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle (Virginia).
The author explains how plants were more than just a hobby; these patriots saw American plants and shrubs as one basis for continued independence since they supplied our needs domestically. These framers shared the view that a nation of independent small farmers would foreclose the inherent corruption of laborers forced to survive in "putrid" cities. How slavery fitted into all this is also touched upon by the author. The author's research (reflected in 81 pages of notes, including important references to electronic data sources) is awesome. The book has 16 color plates and 19 B&W illustrations. I knew nothing of plants, but the author's skillful narrative is rich in descriptive power. The book itself is beautifully produced, from the colorful dust jacket to the fine paper--yet another example of the superb work done by Berryville Graphics in Virginia. Accept the author's argument or not, this book stands as a unique and insightful study of the sometimes mythical "founders".
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. But 200 years ago there wasn't as much of a difference between the two as in our day when we are much more divorced from the soil. She also acknowledges the large role slave labor played in the extravagant gardens built by Washington, Jefferson, and Madison (although Washington wasn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty), and looks at their different attitudes towards slavery. But overall, this is a fascinating look at their thoughts toward gardening and farming, and shows very convincingly just how fascinated they were in working with the soil. And it gives an interesting and more full perspective on *who* they were as people - beyond all their other accomplishments.
I have an interest in both major subject areas covered here -- Colonial/Revolutionary American History and horticultural history. I learned a great deal about the role agriculture and horticulture played in our early history and in the lives of the founders.
What Wulf has done so expertly is to explain the role of land stewardship, plant husbandry, and even environmentalism in the lives of the founders. It is interesting how these values often superseded their political ambitions and dogma.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It is interesting to know how important agriculture was to them for their own...Read more