All the presidents’ gardens

The Obamas followed a long line of US presidents into the garden. Will the Trumps carry on the tradition?

Grow your own: Michelle Obama took a spade to the White House’s South Lawn in 2009 to make a kitchen garden

Grow your own: Michelle Obama took a spade to the White House’s South Lawn in 2009 to make a kitchen garden

 

Now that the Trump administration is ensconced in Washington, the question of whether the famous White House kitchen garden championed by Michelle Obama will remain in situ is one on many people’s lips. Donald Trump, after all, is not a man known for his healthy-eating ways. As for the possibility of Melania Trump donning muddy garden boots and gloves to wield a garden fork or harvest sweet potatoes as her predecessor did… Let’s just say it requires a considerable stretch of the imagination.

But if the Trumps do succeed in discovering their inner green-fingered selves, they’ll be following in a long and noble line of American presidential families that loved to garden, as a fascinating new book, All the Presidents’ Gardens by Marta McDowell (Timber Press), makes clear. Perhaps the best-known example is Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, whose famous garden at Monticello in Virginia is a Unesco World Heritage site and a place of pilgrimage for many. His predecessor George Washington (America’s first president) was also a keen gardener, known in particular for his fondness for growing roses. President Ulysses Grant had other horticultural interests, installing a grapery in the gardens of the White House where the head gardener grew a selection of the choicest vines.

Camelot era

Several decades later, President Teddy Roosevelt and his wife oversaw the creation of a colonial-style garden at the White House, which they filled with box-parterres, flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs, roses and clematis. With the Camelot era of the Kennedys, the White House gardens were once again transformed, this time with the help of the legendary American garden designer Bunny Mellon. Like the Roosevelts, the Kennedys adored flowers, so Mellon planted a presidential rose garden that became the setting for many formal occasions and presentations.

In the ensuing decades, other American presidents have continued to leave their mark on the White House gardens; President Jimmy Carter planted pine and maple trees propagated from cuttings of plants growing in his farm in Georgia, while Laura Bush planted native Texan Bluebonnets. But it was Michelle Obama who made history in 2009 by taking a spade to the White House South Lawn to make a kitchen garden. Will it survive? A recent press statement by one of Trump’s advisers promised that as America’s First Lady, Melania Trump is committed to its preservation and continuation. But I wonder. All gardens, as McDowell points out, are ephemeral, but presidential gardens especially so.

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