Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation
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For the Founding Fathers, gardening, agriculture, and botany were elemental passions: a conjoined interest as deeply ingrained in their characters as the battle for liberty and a belief in the greatness of their new nation.
Founding Gardeners is an exploration of that obsession, telling the story of the revolutionary generation from the unique perspective of their lives as gardeners, plant hobbyists, and farmers. Acclaimed historian Andrea Wulf describes how George Washington wrote letters to his estate manager even as British warships gathered off Staten Island; how a tour of English gardens renewed Thomas Jefferson’s and John Adams’s faith in their fledgling nation; and why James Madison is the forgotten father of environmentalism. Through these and other stories, Wulf reveals a fresh, nuanced portrait of the men who created our nation.
concern, “Pray dont let a Single Tree be cutt” when she had purchased a grove that he admired—“I would not part with it, for Gold.” A decade later, in the summer of 1796, Adams recorded in his diary that the villagers who had stripped an ancient walnut tree of its bark to use as dye had “murdered” it. Similarly, Madison complained to a visitor that in his forests “Great depredations are committed” by neighboring tanners who left his trees naked when they scoured the forest for bark, which they
412–15; BF to Jane Mecom, 21 February 1757, BF Papers, vol. 7, p. 134; BF to Samuel Ward, 24 March 1757, BF Papers, vol. 7, pp. 154–55; BF to Charles Norris, 16 September 1758 and 5 August 1762, BF Papers, vol. 8, p. 155 and vol. 10, p. 139; BF to Sir Alexander Dick, 21 January 1762 and 11 December 1763, BF Papers, vol. 10, pp. 16, 385; BF to DF, 24 March 1762, BF Papers, vol. 10, p. 70; John Mills to BF, 12 July 1764, BF Papers, vol. 11, pp. 357–58; BF to Rudolph Erich Raspe, 9 September 1766,
Berkeley and Smith Berkeley 1992, p. 68. 152 “timber will soon”: JB, “An Essay for the Improvements of Estates, by Raising a Durable Timber for Fencing, and Other Uses,” Poor Richard Improved, ed. by BF, 1749, Berkeley and Smith Berkeley 1992, p. 294. 153 “as most of ye land is cleared”: JB to Peter Collinson, 6 January 1763, Berkeley and Smith Berkeley 1992, p. 582. 154 “loss for wood”: BF to Jared Eliot, 25 October 1750, BF Papers, vol. 4, p. 70. For BF’s Pennsylvania fireplace: BF wrote
with Washington. In Philadelphia, meanwhile, little had been achieved. In the past seven weeks the delegates had agreed to replace the Articles of Confederation instead of simply amending them and determined that government should consist of three branches, but that was all. They had failed to make any decision about the thorny issue of representation of the states in the two houses. “It is impossible to say when the Convention will rise,” one delegate wrote to his wife in New Jersey. Finally,
would, by the mid-nineteenth century, become the most commonly planted tree in America. He collected roots against snakebites, discovered a serviceberry that was superior in “flavor and size” to the one he knew from Virginia and thought the “yellow currant” (Ribes aureum) was “vastly preferable to those of our gardens.” Like Jefferson, Lewis observed plants for their possible uses as edible or medicinal plants but also for their ornamental value.6 Over the next months the expedition members