Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: 'Founding Gardeners'

And though the vegetable sleep will continue longer on some trees and plants than on others, and though some of them may not blossom for two or three years, all will be in leaf in the summer . . . What pace the political summer may keep with the natural, no human foresight can determine. It is, however, not difficult to perceive that the spring has begun
At its peak, the garden on the farm where I lived for many years was an organic wonderland the length of and about half the width of a football field.

Snow peas, cabbage and kale started in cold frames went in first. Next came root plants, including carrots, onions, garlic, spuds and mangles for our chickens. With the danger of frost past, in went a half dozen or so varieties of peppers. There also were eggplants, cukes, zukes, tomatoes, corn, horseradish, asparagus and lots of herbs. Alternating rows were planted with annual flowers, primarily marigolds and zinnias. And sunflowers, as well. These were not only pleasing to the eye, but yet another attraction for our bees, while our peacock feasted on the sunflower seeds after the plants wilted, bowed their top-heavy heads and succumbed to gravity.

There is little that I have done during a lifetime filled with adventures for sheer pleasure that compares to kneeling in the garden and taking in the aroma of the plants, flowers and the loamy soil. This experience kept coming to mind as I read Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf.

The author makes the audacious claim in the prologue to Founding Gardeners that the founding fathers' passion for nature, plants, gardens and agriculture is woven so deeply into America's fabric that it is impossible to understand the making of the republic without looking at the founders as farmers and gardeners. And then goes on to more than make that case as she ties my digging in the dirt to the labors of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams and, of course Thomas Jefferson, whose gardens at Monticello (photo, above right) have always appealed more to me than his house. She further makes the case that it was James Madison and not Henry David Thoreau or John Muir who was the first great American environmentalist.


No comments: