Early spring is the time to plant peas and sweet peas and in honor of the Founding Fathers of this country.
Today, we look at some of the gardening wisdom of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and James Madison. These men have been called the “Founding Gardeners” as they used their gardens as an escape from politics and as a template and inspiration for the genius of the Articles of Confederation.
It was a historic meeting that the young nation found itself unable to agree on a distribution of power and how to assign voting blocks in an equitable way to all 13 colonies. Some of the states were more populous than the others, and Franklin described the frustration of how to limit and distribute power as a “two-headed snake pulled apart in opposite directions.” The representatives escaped to the garden of horticulturist John Bartram near the meeting house in Philadelphia. After a three-hour walk in the garden together, the Founding Fathers became “free and social able with one another again.” It was after the garden visit that two of the Southern representatives changed their vote to finally ratify the new Constitution.
This fall, I will be leading a garden tour to the East Coast to visit the Gardens of American History with stops in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. (Visit binettigarden.com for more trip information.) George Washington, the father of our country, gave up his power and resigned from office in order to return to his real obsession in life — his farm and gardens in Mount Vernon. Washington’s home and gardens at Mount Vernon have been beautifully restored and will be one of our stops on the tour.
We can still learn from the advice of our first American president.
From George Washington:
▪ Make raised mounds in the middle of the lawn in the form of islands. Into this soil plant conifer trees on the sides and flowering trees in the middle. Native trees and shrubs will do the best.
▪ Using crop rotation and manure is the way to avoid depleting the soil.
▪ Clear the trees in the center of your property so that views can be opened up.
On growing roses from John Adams:
Plant rose bushes under the windows of the home so that the perfume can enter on a summer day.
From James Madison:
The fourth president of the United States was said to be obsessed with the benefits of manure, and on a visit to England he came upon a dung pile in the city streets. Legend says he plunged his bare hands into the dung pile to study the consistency of the pile. He is quoted as claiming in delight, “My manure at home is much better than this!”
From Thomas Jefferson:
He has the most often quoted wisdom passed down through the ages: “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener,” reminding us there is always something to learn from the garden.
Our visit to historic gardens this fall will also include the New York Botanical Gardens and a few nights in Philadelphia to visit the gigantic estates of Longwood and the beautiful pleasure garden of Chanticleer. These display gardens will showcase the latest in modern landscape ideas, new trees and shrubs, and colorful displays of annuals and perennials with designs by today’s top horticulturists.
Our Founding Fathers made sure there would be public gardens in Washington, D.C., and so they helped plant the seed for the National Arboretum. We will visit the ornamental herb garden at the arboretum as well as Hillwood Estates to explore the home and outdoor rooms of taste-maker and millionaire Majorie Post.
You don’t need to visit the historic gardens of America to glean wisdom for your own backyard projects. Local knowledge is as close as your nearest Master Gardener or local garden club. You might just need to look over the back fence and ask for growing advice from the neighbor with the abundance of tomatoes. We can also remember our forefathers when politics makes one weary — just head for a garden and, in a few hours, common sense and compromise will prevail.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
Sunday (March 5), Noon, Windmill Gardens “Gardens of American History” meeting about future trip. Free, no registration.