First Ladies style the White House gar­den

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

bon­nets, one of the first lady’s fa­vorites, for a spring dis­play in the rose gar­den. de­scribed by Na­tional Public ra­dio as a ‘closet preser­va­tion­ist,’ Bush laughed and said, ‘Well, not a closet preser­va­tion­ist. I’m a very ac­tive preser­va­tion­ist…’

Michelle Obama took a shovel to the South Lawn in 2009 to make a food gar­den. edi­ble gar­den­ing was the fastest grow­ing mar­ket seg­ment ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional gar­den­ing Sur­vey. The lo­ca­tion of the new gar­den, tucked to the side of the South Lawn, ad­hered to the 1935 Olm­sted plan, keep­ing the vista across the South Foun­tain clear. The plant se­lec­tions reached back through his­tory to some of the pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pants of the house and grounds.

The White House Kitchen gar­den was planted as a sort of na­tional demon­stra­tion gar­den to pro­mote healthy eat­ing, espe­cially for chil­dren, tak­ing up a ban­ner long held aloft by chefs such as alice Wa­ters and writ­ers like Michael Pol­lan. It is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ ini­tia­tive. a few lucky school groups get to dig in the gar­den, plant­ing and har­vest­ing, then help­ing to cook and eat veggie pizza.

The new gar­den set more than the me­dia abuzz. White House car­pen­ter Char­lie Brandt, who kept hives at home, added bee­keeper to his job de­scrip­tion. The hives are the first on record at the White House. Like the sculp­ture in­stal­la­tions, the hives are se­cured—strapped down—to with­stand air tur­bu­lence from Ma­rine One. The colonies pros­pered and pro­duced 140 pounds of honey in their first year, used in the White House kitchen and for state gifts. along with ex­cess pro­duce from the gar­den, some of the honey was also do­nated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a non­profit serv­ing d.c.’s home­less.

Like trees, seeds can be good­will am­bas­sadors. Seeds are begin­nings, en­cap­su­lated hope. In 2014, Pres­i­dent Obama made a state visit to rome’s new pon­tiff car­ry­ing a box of seeds, his gift to Pope Fran­cis. They were not just any seeds, but pa­per pack­ets of heir­loom va­ri­eties grown in the White House gar­den. They were pre­sented in a hand­crafted chest made from wood re­claimed from the Bal­ti­more Basil­ica, the first cathe­dral built in the United States. ‘If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our gar­den as well,’ Obama of­fered. Fran­cis re­sponded with a Span­ish phrase that could be trans­lated as ‘Why not?’ or ‘For sure.’ In Septem­ber 2015, the pres­i­dent wel­comed the pope to the White House in a cer­e­mony on the South Lawn.

Why shouldn’t the White House gar­dens be our com­mon ground, a way to look for­ward into the fu­ture and back through the lay­ers of american land­scape de­sign and gar­den his­tory? The gar­dens are one of the old­est con­tin­u­ally cul­ti­vated patches on the North american con­ti­nent. Ex­tract from All the Pres­i­dentsõ Gar­dens by Marta Mcdow­ell, pub­lished by Tim­ber Press, £20 (www.tim­ber­press.com)

What hap­pened to the trees?

Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton in the Jac­que­line Kennedy Gar­den

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