As the U.S. celebrates its 236th birthday today, take a moment to learn how important gardens were to a few of our founding fathers…
George Washington and Mount Vernon
“Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.”
General Washington was heavily involved in the design and upkeep of the gardens and farms at his Virginia home, Mount Vernon. Even during the years he spent far away fighting the Revolutionary War, his letters home frequently contained instructions to his gardener. He specified plants and trees he wanted included, and described where and how they should be planted. When he was able to spend time at home, he experimented with new seeds and plants and worked to make his farm entirely self-sufficient. Today, visitors to Mount Vernon can see the gardens, including the Upper Garden, which was painstakingly restored in 2011 to reflect the garden as it would have been during Washington’s time.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, courtesy of TripAdvisor
John Adams and Peacefield
“As much as I converse with Sages and Heroes, they have very little of my Love or Admiration. I should prefer the Delights of a Garden to the Dominion of a World.”
John Adams was known to his fellow founding fathers and to history as an opinionated, passionate politician, but Adams himself often said he was nothing but a farmer at heart. When visiting great homes and estates overseas, he frequently noted the gardens and farms rather than the stately houses. When he was able to be at home at his farm, Peacefield, in Massachusetts, he could often be found in his shirtsleeves, shoveling manure or harvesting fruit from his orchards. He even created his own compost recipe, which included seaweed mixed with kitchen scraps and more. He admired informal gardens and hoped fervently that more formal English-style gardens wouldn’t catch on in the newly-established United States – he felt that “Nature has done greater things.” Learn more about Adams the farmer here.
Adams National Historical Park, courtesy of TripAdvisor
Thomas Jefferson and Monticello
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden… though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
Thomas Jefferson is probably the best known gardener of the founding fathers. He kept detailed records of the gardens and grounds for more than 60 years, so we know a great deal about what he planted and cultivated at Monticello in his lifetime. In addition to his plantation, he also had flower and vegetable gardens, orchards, and even an ornamental forest. He experimented in his gardens like Washington did, and was heavily involved in all aspects of Monticello’s landscape. Visitors to Monticello today can see restored gardens reflecting Jefferson’s original designs and uses.
Monticello, courtesy of TripAdvisor
You can learn much more about our founding fathers and their gardens in Andrea Wulf’s fascinating book, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!