The Gardens of our Founding Fathers

An illustration of Thomas Jefferson in the first White House garden by S.D. Schindler courtesy of The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. 

An illustration of Thomas Jefferson in the first White House garden by S.D. Schindler courtesy of The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. 

Our founding fathers played such an integral role in the forging of America, it’s easy to forget the other aspects of their fabled lives. When Thomas Jefferson wasn’t drafting the Declaration of Independence and George Washington wasn’t leading a rag-tag militia against the British Red-coats, they were planning the next crop rotation in their vegetable gardens, or finding new and exotic ways plants to add to their collection. 

If they had a three day weekend, they would probably be outside gardening. They were enthusiasts! And they each took that enthusiasm with them to the White House, even before it was called the "White House". 

George Washington's famed reluctance to accept the presidency may have been because he had just built one of the nations first greenhouses at Mt. Vernon. Once in office, he set about purchasing what is now the South Lawn from a neighboring tobacco farmer so he could start a botanic garden. 

Among John Adams Day One priorities: hand digging a plot for his vegetable garden.

Thomas Jefferson arrived, as his reputation may belie, with a Garden Plan featuring walls and fences, a flower garden, and a grand focal point he called the Arc de Triumph flanked by weeping willows. 

Next came President Monroe who planted trees everywhere and hired the first White House gardener. John Quincy Adams firedMonroe’s gardener, hired his own, and got on with developing Jefferson’s flower garden. JQ himself enjoyed planting herbs, vegetables and small fruits in his personal kitchen garden.

That our Presidents have consistently either been avid gardeners or saw to it that the White House grounds were more than just lawn has led to many themed incarnations, with President Kennedy’s Rose Garden getting the most press because he believed a garden was a perfect environment for official pronouncements and greetings.