Wednesday, June 1, 2016
All the Presidents' Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses, How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America
Rating: 5 Stars
I received this as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a wonderful volume about a subject I am not typically interested in. I am what you might call an 'indoor girl'. I do not like being outside for long periods of time, particularly in a garden-type environment (swimming pools are an entirely different story). I have killed every plant I have ever tried to keep alive, and in general I don't really care about flowers, plants, or anything that has to do with gardening.
It might seem strange then that I requested this book, but I love history and learning about the White House in particular, along with the First Families. So I took a chance on this one and thank goodness the publisher was willing to take a chance on me!
This really is a fantastic book. Of course the focus is on the gardens changing through the presidencies, but we also get a lot of information that had to do with gardening in general, and with the First Families as well.
The author used tons of contemporary sources. There were blueprints, garden plans, photographs, advertisements, and so on. The sources really added so much to the book, giving us a glimpse of what life was like at the time, and were well-placed. I only wish I had had this in a physical copy instead of reading it on my laptop. The page breaks split some of the ads and such, but overall they were still very useful. At the end there was as complete as possible a list of all the gardeners who ever worked with the White House gardens, as well as an incredibly exhaustive list of everything ever planted on the White House grounds. I could not believe all the types of trees and flowers - again, with my limited background knowledge, I had no idea there were really so many kinds. Generally I just think, okay, flowers. Logically I KNOW there are many kinds, it is just not something I think about often.
One specific contemporary source I found especially interesting was the documents detailing the produce that was available at the time during Jefferson's presidency. It showed costs and what was in stock. So many times throughout the book we see lists like this and we know the costs of flowers, who they were purchased from, and so on. Not only that, but often photos of the flowers accompanied these documents.
Fun Fact: The Shakers invented the paper seed packets. They were the first group of people to start raising and collecting seeds to clean them and start the seed industry. "While Johnny Appleseed gets all the press, the Shakers had a bigger impact on food gardening" (page 68).
Fun Fact: The White House was not officially called so until Theodore Roosevelt became president. It was called this sometimes after the rebuilding post-War of 1812 but it was not official until Teddy.
This was a fun, interesting read and I highly recommend it - green thumb or not!