Feb 13 2018

February 2018 News from Kruse

Posted at 3:02 pm under Kruse House

This month’s article was written by Keith Letsche

Gardening with Presidents

With Valentine’s Day and the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, February is the month of Love and Presidents. We always hear about gardens and love, but not much about gardens and presidents. So while the Kruse House garden is closed for renovation and remodeling by Mother Nature, Inc., this month, let’s take a look at presidential gardening.Between this month’s presidential birthday boys, its seems that George Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, might also be first in presidential gardening. Although he never gardened at the White House (it wasn’t finished until after his death), Mt. Vernon was celebrated in his times for its plantings. In particular, there were so many rose bushes that it took twelve days to harvest the petals which Martha made into rosewater.

Lincoln, it appears, didn’t go much in for gardening while president, probably because he was way too preoccupied by the Civil War, and which, growing up as the son of a hardscrabble frontier farmer, wouldn’t have had much appeal for him anyway. But Mary Todd took a great interest in gardening—or let’s say the money she got from it. It seems that “Mrs. President” (as she liked to be called) had the White House gardener pad his bills for manure and other gardening supplies, and then turn the excess over to her so she could buy more “flubdubs” (her husband’s term for them) to decorate the White House with.

Among other presidents, Jefferson, renowned horticulturalist though he was in addition to his other accomplishments, didn’t do much for gardening at the White House, and may have even set it back when he had seventy acres that were originally part of its grounds detached to create a public common. However, his successor, James Madison, made up for it by planting the first documented White House garden—not an ornamental garden, but one in which he grew varieties of cabbages, radishes, carrots, parsnips and other vegetables. It wasn’t so much that

Madison missed the fields of his Montpelier plantation as he needed what he grew for the lavish dinners Dolley and he gave, since presidents at the time didn’t receive a budget for state entertaining. John Quincy Adams might have been called “Johnny Appleseed,” or more precisely “Johnny Chestnut” or “Johnny Acorn,” because of all the trees he had planted at the White House.

Later presidents tended to be experimenters in their gardening. Woodrow Wilson used sheep to trim the White House lawn and free up its gardeners for service in World War I. Barack Obama introduced beehives on the White House grounds, which produced 140 pounds of honey their first year. But perhaps the most novel of the White House gardens was the idea not of a president but his wife, the beloved Rose Garden with its whimsical Alice in Wonderland characters, which Jackie Kennedy had installed as part of her undertaking as First Lady to brighten up the “dreary Maison Blanche.”

These and many other stories about presidential gardens can be found in Marta McDowell’s book, All the Presidents’ Gardens.

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