Independence Day

Washington's Mount Vernon in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Washington’s Mount Vernon (photo: Virginia.org)

In celebration of Independence Day, the fourth of July, I thought I would share a little history about the day and its meaning, and follow through on a garden theme with information on some of our founding fathers; their appreciation of nature and how that translated to their love of gardening. You might be surprised to learn that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were not only dedicated Presidents, they were also deeply passionate about local agriculture, ornamental gardening and protecting the natural environment.

Flag and fireworks in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Flag and fireworks (photo: Farmers Almanac)

Signed on July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was created to acknowledge our separation from Great Britain. Since its inception, this federal holiday known as Independence Day (also the National Day of the United States) is celebrated annually on July 4th, often with fireworks, parades and backyard barbecues. Some historians dispute whether the Declaration of Independence was actually signed on July 4th (although Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin confirmed this date), stating instead that it was signed almost a month later on August 2nd. (Could it be possible that Congress dragged its feet even in the 1700’s? ) Coincidentally, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Five years later, on July 4, 1831, President James Monroe also passed away. But on a cheerier note, our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4th, 1872.

The gardens of Mount Vernon in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

The gardens of Mount Vernon (photo: mountvernon.org)

Our first President, George Washington, began his appreciation of nature at the age of 17 when he was surveying the Appalachian mountains. His experience as a surveyor was believed to have contributed to the formal geometrical designs of his earlier Virginia gardens at Mount Vernon, which later evolved to include some natural settings. During the 8 years of the Revolutionary War, George Washington spent every free moment planning his gardens, utilizing trees and shrubs from the 8,000 acre estate, and some specimen trees such as white pines and hemlocks from New York and magnolias from South Carolina. Due to his strong dislike of the British, Washington was adamant that not one non-native plant be used on his estate (while most Americans during this time were enthralled with European designs and plants). Once Washington returned to Mount Vernon, he was thoroughly involved in all aspects of the estate (some say he ran it like a military operation), from drawing designs to selecting plants. Washington so loved his plantation that he rode the 20 mile perimeter daily, no matter the weather, until his death at the age of 67. (For more info visit: www.mountvernon.org )

Aerial view of Jefferson's Monticello in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Aerial view of Jefferson’s Monticello (photo: monticello.org)

Before he became President, Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France, where he combined business with pleasure during his frequent travels abroad. Often accompanied by his friend, John Adams, the pair would take time to travel throughout Paris and London to explore the many magnificent European gardens there. Jefferson was known for carrying a notepad where he would document anything of interest with the hope of using these ideas in Monticello’s mountaintop Virginia gardens. Jefferson also enjoyed visiting local farms where he would speak to the gardeners themselves to learn their gardening procedures. Like George Washington, Jefferson had a passion for beautiful gardens, but he wanted to incorporate practical elements (such as mixing flowers with edibles) when designing his 5,000 acre estate. Although the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803 was commissioned by Jefferson mainly to find a commerce water route to the Pacific, he also had a great desire to discover new plant material across the United States and was always thrilled to receive the packages of seeds and live materials from Lewis and Clark. Monticello’s gardens were not only a botanic showpiece and main food source, but a landscape of experimental plant discoveries, both ornamental and edible. (For more info visit: www.monticello.org )

Adam's Peacefield estate in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Adam’s Peacefield estate (photo: NPS.gov)

Most frugal of the three, our first Vice President (and second President) John Adams owned Peacefield, a modest home and estate that encompassed approximately 40 acres in Quincy, Massachusetts. While Adams resided mainly in Pennsylvania during his 12 years as Vice President and President, his wife Abigail Smith Adams was instrumental in expanding the house (originally two rooms) and maintaining the property, which consisted of farmland and orchards. During Adams many expeditions across Europe with Thomas Jefferson, he developed a deep appreciation for beautiful gardens. With the stressful environment surrounding his political career, Adams was able to find solace by strolling through local gardens, often taking “mini escapes” to the countryside whenever possible. He understood the health benefits of communing with nature. Adams felt most comfortable at home working in his gardens, and (like Washington and Jefferson) thought of farmers with the highest regard, believing they were the backbone of our country. Presently, the Peacefield property (Adams National Historical Park) contains an historic orchard of heirloom apples and formal 18th century flower gardens. (For more info visit: www.nps.gov/adam/index.htm )

As we tend to our gardens (or view local gardens and landscapes) in the months ahead, we can think of our founding fathers and how their love of gardening may have, in some small way, influenced us as well. Happy Fourth!

~For those interested in reading more about gardening history, please check out the book: Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf~

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Comments

  1. WOW! Had no idea our Founding Fathers were so involved in gardens, and nature… They look like they have some beautiful estates that have been passed down-

    • Yes, and they are all on my “Gardens to Visit” list!! I’m hoping to get to Adam’s this year, the others will require a little more planning as they are more than a day trip.

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