Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf (February Book)

KODAK Digital Still Camera100_4026founding gardeners

six people in attendance

Book got a 1.5 smiley face rating.  Ranged for 0 to 4

Note from a club member

I did not like this book.  She had her historical facts distorted to suit her premise that the founding of our nation had something to do with the waay our ancestors regarded farming.  She gave minimal information about plants.  …..I don’t think I’d want to read another one of her books

  •  Founders:
    • exchanged seeds
    • unofficial ambassador for colony
    • believe colony  can be self proficient with property right to grow.
    • saw economic potential for new crops (cash crop)
    • could not come up with a compromise
    • gardening became a political  act
    • founders  loved nature
    • Washington
    • Madison
    • Ben Franklin
  • Songs about nature “God Bless America”
  • Were passionate about nature
    • Jefferson
    • John Adams
  • Washington (on eve of battle) wrote a letter to his garden at  Mount Vernon
  • The Liberty Tree became an emblem of the revolution  (temple or Revolution)
  • Washington  used trees as metaphors and currency with his troops
  • Washington was first to have soldiers start a garden (amusement)
  • He focused on his garden
  • no Indian corn, just blood from  his soldiers
  • Country of farmers were born!
  • people wanted Washington as King, not a farmer
  • Franklin was thing of plants more economical than Washington
  • Washington returned home after 8 years.  After his return he rebuilt his landscape he had tens of thousand acers in Ohio
  • Society the Arts
  • Clashes with the Brits (Boston Tea Party)
  • Farmers had a key to the future with their land
  • Gardening was a building block
  • This land was made for you and me
  • 1818 Madison wanted protection of the environment
  • Green branches were the sign of hope
  • more men died from disease than from the enemy.
  • Washington completed the army duties but went back the farming lifestyle
  • He chose the plough than being in command
  • Future of the colonies were to the west
  • Washington did not defer from rare or native
  • He was very hospital to guest/strangers at Mt  Vernon
  • Washington worked like the common man (field work)
  • Washington life collie flowers for his walk
  • Washington was very “passionate” about gardening
  • Washington used seaweed to kill weeds
  • Gardens like an Army personal
  • tobacco hurts the soil fertility.
  • Was looking for fertilizer.  (even human waste)

2   Thomas Jefferson

  • The young nations farmers were selling goods back to Britain.
  • Jefferson left Adams (in Britain) to go on a gardening tour
  • Jefferson was fascinated about gardens
  • Jefferson working on difference between soil and commerce page 39
  • intrigued about nature
  • large land owner in Virginia
  • sacrifice profit for beauty
  • Issue of Islam was brought up


  • was not a wealthy land owner
  • saw a garden as a relaxing theropedic issue for him.  Garden is first.
  • he went with Jefferson to see as many gardens possible
  • they liked gardens above eating
  • Franklin thought he was very honest
  • he was open hearted and chatty

These two also like gardening more than politics

  • need public virtual not luxury
  • avoid plague of Europe
  • lead a simple life, follow civic duties
  • all for freedom and liberty

Soon seeds for America was a big thing over in France

They both were thrilled by visiting many gardens

  • After  declaration of Independence didn’t really initial apply because of the issue on the colonies to a nation.
  • James Madison:  called to George Washington
  • They all believe that they need to be a country (protecting states)
  • Jefferson was fighting in Paris for specific plants
  • Jefferson also had book of plants with common and Latin names

Talk of separation of powers, have checks and balances at equilibrium,

  • Structure of the government
  • p. 68 location 1344
  • He liked botonny (Franklin)
  • Each Journey needs to be educational (Jefferson)
  • Jefferson also had garden in Paris
  • Franklin had kidney stones
  • Bartrams garden in the Carolinas.
  • Delegate for the convention toured Bartrams garden.
  • Alexandra Hamilton thought nature and politics linked (1523 or 17%)
    • one state=one vote
    • Hamilton thought a garden was for “sorry” politicians. (footnotes)
    • 4.   Parties and Politicks
      • Jefferson was linked to his daughters gardening
      • He wanted to be in Monticello
  • Madison and Hamilton had good energy and work ethic
  • Jefferson and Madison liked the Republics where Hamilton and Adams were the Federalist who wanted a strong federal governments v.s. individual liberty.
  • Hamilton was very mechanical.  Unsurprisingly industrial “The spirit of enterprise”.
  • Combine all colony debts
  • Gardening was a relief from politics (20%  1809)
  • talk between  Jefferson and Madison about seeds
  • The Hessian fly came from troops in Revolutionary war
  • Trade with France and Britain
  • Thought US could export sugar
  • looking at sugar maple plants for trade
  • Madison create a journal for farming in Connecticut, like soil types, crops, and sizes of farms
  • thus, thriving sugar farms against British sugar
  • Had problems with sugar because of the climate
  • banks:  paper Vs. Paper
  • These two people had friendship for life
  • talk of wheat and the hessian fly

5.  Political Plants Grow In The Shades

  • Adams enjoyed “picking” in the field
  • long congressional political talk
  • Adams, Madison, Washington, and Jefferson had all returned to their farms
  • Adams was only happy working with the soil
  • Adams garden was like a “wilderness”
  • He was thinking about being President talking to Abigail or working in the garden.
  • Madison was coming up for the Republicans reply
  • Washington new he was setting a precedent.  Only 2 terms.
  • Washington wanted to eliminate slave labor.
  • Talk about a three year cycle:
    • Indian corn
    • wheat
    • a year fallow
  • They didn’t understand the nutrients, fertilizer, or the damage theu=y were doing to the soil.
  • Farmer would clear a new plot of land and start over again.
  • Adams called Massachusetts farmers lazy, ignorant sett”
  • Abuse of the land.  (2245  25%)
  • Adams become frustrated about the land
  • over in Europe plans to improve soil started to happen
    • five, six, seven, and8 year methods were introduced
    • thing like clover
  • crop rotation starts
  • difference between Washington’s and Jefferson’s garden
    • I am but a learner
    • I am entirely a farmer
  • small farmer would be the foot soldier for the country (foundation)
  • Put public virtue first!
  • only farmers should be allowed at seat at state.
  • Small farmer is the foundation of liberty
  • Washington had gardening books open on his table
  • Had issues with dung.  Calculated how much dung was needed
  • Washington built a dung post to store crap.
  • Washington wanted a National Agriculture Board.
  • The second most votes became VP
  • Adams never lived beyond his need
  • Adams did not like merchants
  • A patient does more harm than good.

6.  City of Magnificent Intentions (Washington DC)

  • Land was in rough shape
  • start of street signs???
  • Adams did not like the White House…it was cold and smellie
  • No land for a garden
  • Question:  how is debt going to be taking care of?
  • Where can we find a home?? (In DC)
  • The assumption bill was debated
  • Design of building the capital
    • a city of gardens
    • of parks
    • out of site
    • grow organically
  • Original design was scaled “Too buig”
  • A contest to build a house in the US was made
  • The first botanical garden for national unity started in 1796
  • loyalty to the land, not your own state
  • Talk of building the White House in DC
  • problems constructing capital…lack of funds
  • Both Adams and Jefferson were not that excited about construction
  • Talk of making Philadelphia the capital
  • On Washington’s death bed he wrote about crop rotation and manure
  • After Washington death the first thing on Adams mind was a garden
  • Adams were the first president tomlive in White House
    • lack of  money
    • time
    • burn out
  • Bad election between Adams and Jefferson (3rd president)
  • Very simple with republican principles
  • The White House did not look as Washington had hoped
  • Jefferson did not plant a plant as President
  • Was a simple farmer for the people
  • Made White House totally American
  • As in office, he looked as a farmer
  • opened up one of the first farmers market
  • introduction of Lewis for observation
  • p. 157  35%
  • was going to learn who to survey
  • how to preserve seed
  • Did we have a land of to much
  • now Lewis was looking at the expedition as being scientific
  • Plan is to understand nature (Lewis and Clark expedition)
    • collected fruits
    • skins
    • buffalo robes
  • caught a prairie dog to send back
  • Traveled throughout Missouri
  • They brought back many “new” types of plants/seeds
  • With these seeds the east can “TASTE” the west.
  • These two almost starved to death

8.  Tho’ An Old Man, I Am But A Young Gardner

  • James Madison (4th President)
  • Jefferson wanted to go back to his garden
  • Jefferson designed a garden for America
  • He knew every plant in his garden
  • talk about shifting garden soil – change of landscape
  • use thickets of evergreens
  • Used designs of gardens “across the pond”
  • P. 183 40%
  • Jefferson planted grass for his crop rotation
  • Jefferson liked fruit trees
  • Jefferson collected veggies from all over the world
  • Jefferson took dimensions of Lewis and Clarks veggies
  • Wanted to grow all goods in America  (problems with Europe)
  • Had cardinal flower!
  • “of honor & virtue, for manure”.

9.  Balance Of Nature

  • Dolly and Madison has white flowers and jasmine
  • Madison enclosed yard with fine specimens of trees
  • They even had hot houses
  • country has changed since George Washington.  Times had changed:
    • technology
    • transport (railroad)
    • schools
    • new inventions
  • landscape yard dwells into the American forest
  • Madison was a slave owner who were better treated than other
  • Slave population over took the white people
  • Madison owned over 100 slaves
  • p. 202   45%
  • talked about slavery much
  • Jefferson and Madison were short of money
  • Madison did many experiment’.
    • talked about soil erosion
    • irrigation
    • restore depleted soil with manure
    • talked about timber resources
    • fertilization
  • talk about agriculture with nature
  • plants need their nutrition from their environment, atmosphere, and soil.
  • are plants and animals in equilibrium.
  • Madison had the economy of nature
  • Madison loved the woodlands.
  • all founders thought of waste from trees
  • Williamson thought that trees kill people (put our a “gross putrescent fluid”
  • All 4 founders could not start a botanical garden.


  • Botany was always on Jefferson’s mind
  • Jefferson died on the 4th of July


2 thoughts on “Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf (February Book)

  1. Since I have a number of American history interests (including colonial and post-revolutionary time periods), I’ve been through Wulf’s Founding Gardeners a couple of times. Of particular note is the author’s focus on “political gardening,” where political notables on both sides of the Atlantic critiqued their societies by creating. Plant selections and landscape engineering seemed to play a major part in communicating to the public Whig (Britain) or Democratic Republican (American) sentiments. I’d give this book a 4.5, but my interests probably contribute to this high rating.


    1. I was looking forward to discuss this book with you because I know you are a history person. Reason for this interest is: For my commission as an officer I had ti take a college class on military history. From this class I can’t remember that the “founders” were so passionate about gardening. Though, a smile came to my face with it was written that Thomas Jefferson never planted 1 plant. I understand we are looking at gardening, BUT wouldn’t planting a tree be an outstanding “political” activity for that time (even though they were not worried about land). Ya know, I gave the book the highest ratting, one person gave it a 0. Some people didn’t completely read the text. This just shows the diverse interest of remembers of our book club.


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