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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation Paperback – April 3, 2012
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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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Illuminating and engrossing. . . . The reader relives the first decades of the Republic not only through [Wulf’s] eloquent and revelatory prose but through the words of the statesmen themselves.” —The New York Times Book Review
“[A] lively and deeply researched history.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Anecdotes . . . shimmer through Andrea Wulf’s fine story. . . . Luxurious and sharp-witted.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A work of historical and horticultural importance, one that examines America’s origins through a new prism, and in so doing enriches Americans’ understanding of their heritage.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Eloquently written and very beguiling. . . . [Wulf] 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.” —The Plain Dealer
“A new interpretation of early American history, one that connects the founders’ zeal for agriculture and gardening to their thoughts on politics, independence, self-sufficiency, and patriotism. It’s terrific.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“One of those rare books that, by focusing on a single angle of vision, brings to life a whole era and cast of characters.” —The Dallas Morning News
“[Wulf] infuses her text with such liveliness, grace and original scholarship that the reader happily follows the author at a brisk trot wherever she may lead. And what a journey. For the first time, we are vividly shown how the founding fathers reinvented a system of agriculture geared to the needs of the young country.” —The Washington Times
“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.” —Nashville Scene
“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 (London)
“Full of wonderful details.” —Literary Review
“The book fizzes with energy.” —The Lady
“Highly enjoyable and thought-provoking. . . . Wulf combines a sure knowledge of garden history and eighteenth-century politics with a keen eye for domestic detail and evocative description. . . . The best kind of popular history.” —The Irish Times
“Wonderfully engaging. . . . Wulf may be at her best when she invites us to enter the founding fathers’ gardens themselves. Her knack for description is marvelous. . . . Breaks new ground.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Founding Gardeners is genuinely illuminating, illustrated with a wealth of compelling detail and well-chosen quotations from personal correspondence, and provides succinct accounts of both the founding of America and some of the country’s earliest and most spectacular gardens.” —The Spectator
“The founding fathers really do come alive. . . . They express their deep belief in freedom through the way they garden much the same way they do in their writings.” —New York Journal of Books
“Superb. . . . This book will fascinate anyone interested in gardening, agriculture or American history, offering new insights into four familiar lives and conjuring up the gardens of the new republic.” —Mail on Sunday (London)
“Andrea Wulf found a timely topic, has done excellent research, and has written a wonderful book to demonstrate the thesis. . . . Brother Gardeners, Ms. Wulf's previous book, was such fascinating reading that I slowed down as I anticipated its ending. In Founding Gardeners, she neatly continues the historical thread of the previous work: its blend of history and gardening is as interestingly written as before. . . . Extraordinary.” —The Martha’s Vineyard Times
“Carefully researched and well-told. . . . Their passion for plants will inspire pride in your garden plot that is indeed America under your very own gardening feet. . . . You will never garden the same way again.” —Michigan Gardener
“Lovely book. . . . Fascinating story.” —The Sunday Telegraph
“The reader's reward is a fresh appreciation for the talents, vision and energy of the men who shaped their farms and gardens along with the nation.” —The Post & Courier (Charleston)
“Founding Gardeners is a great achievement and deserves its place on the shelves of political as well as garden historians.” —Country Life
“An original, insightful look at the characters and passions of the men who shaped our country. Wulf’s colorful prose, superb research, and driving narrative make for an engrossing read that will give you new appreciation for horticulture’s influence on history.” —The American Gardener
“Artfully composed. . . . Wulf's scholarship, passion and pleasing prose make for a happy combination: a history book for gardeners, a gardening book for historians. A fresh look at the Founders that charms even as it irresistibly convinces.” —Kirkus Reviews, A Best Book of 2011
Top customer reviews
The writing is direct although there are many very long sentences to trip up a naive reader. Once used to this style, it becomes easier. The author includes details about the lives of the founding fathers which suggest deep and thorough research. Details of place, conversation, and of many plants make the book fascinating. Colored pictures show the people and certain trees at their best.
says that by carefully studying records, letters and diaries, she came to see "how vegetable plots, ornamental plants, landscapes and forests had played a crucial role in America's struggle for national identity and in the lives of our Founding Fathers.
Wulf tells of Benjamin Franklin's early certainty that America's future rested on it's "endless horizons, fertile soil and floral abundance" - a belief, she states, "became the perfect articulation of a distant national identity - of a country that was young and strong."
The author claims Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison felt the same and offers their stories and letters to prove it.
Even as Washington struggled through the eight year ordeal of the Revolutionary War, his thoughts were constantly of his gardens, his fields and the wooded lands of Virginia. At the war's end, he wished to return to his life as a "farmer and plantsman".
And, he did, throwing himself with passion into daily life as a "hands-on" gardener - an intellectual gardener, sending out seeds, acorns and thoughts on soil conservation, etc. He accepted the presidency with great reluctance.
Jefferson would also serve as president but saw himself as "farmer, gardener and philosopher". Adams regarded himself as a farmer first, stating, "zeal at my Heart for my country" was the reluctant drive that kept him in politics. Jefferson in Paris and Adams in London were profoundly affected by English gardens. When the Adames returned home in 1788, Wolfe clims they packed "books, seeds and plant lists of American trees, shrubs and flowers discovered in English gardens" for use at home in Massachusetts.
The Constitutional Congress of 1788 brought fifty-five delegates to Philadelphia, bound only by the Articles of Confedertation. Vicious disputes marked the convention. The tenuous bond between the delegates was that most were farmers or from a planter's background. Their uniting agreement was that the rich expanse of soil and the variety of possible plantings in this new land of theirs would allow personal livelihoods, individual state independence and a common commitment as a people.
Wolfe moves from the national story to a detailed account of the first presidents' dedication to and involvement in their own lands, homes and gardens - Washington at Mount Vernon, Adams at Peacefield, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.
Well-described. Intimate details. Meticulously researched.
A new favorite on my bookshelf.
Beyond the economic value of crops, the native flora were a way of demonstrating the beauty of their new country. anyone passionately interested in crops for food, building, etc. would find it hard, I think, not to see the beauty in plants as well.
The book gives a step by step account of many of the events surrounding the revolution and the first years of the United States' existence. Tied in to these events are the ongoing daily lives of the founding fathers, as they planned their farms and gardens. I think the book demonstrates well that if we ignore this side of their personal history, we miss a fundamential portion of why the country developed as it did.
Wulf details that even as British ships gathered off Staten Island, George Washington wrote his estate manager about the garden at Mount Vernon; how a tour of English gardens renewed Thomas Jeffersons and John Adamss faith in their fledgling nation; how a trip to the great botanist John Bartrams garden helped the delegates of the Constitutional Congress break their deadlock.
She shows us how American trees and plants started to revolutionize the great English gardens.
Do you think that Henry David Thoreau was the first American to warn of the growing damage to America's environment? Wait till you read the chapter on James Madison , our forgotten father of American environmentalism.
If you are a serious gardener and a reader of history, then you need this book in your library. (I have lent my own copy out now three times, and have given another copy to a friend as a gift.)