Saturday, July 2, 2011

Arcadian gardens



On a literary note, this new book, Founding Gardeners, caught my eye, in which Andrea Wulf examines the botanical and agricultural interests of the founding fathers.  The book has garnered a number of favorable reviews including this one from the New York Times,

Wulf, a British design historian, traveled to America and practically lived at the founders’ country houses, reading their correspondence about their gardens and their hopes for a country of farmers in the tradition of Virgil’s “Georgics.” The reader relives the first decades of the Republic not only through her eloquent and revelatory prose but through the words of the statesmen themselves, written mostly in private. We see, for example, George Washington briefly leaving his generals, just before the British invasion of New York, so he can compose a letter to his estate manager about planting groves of flowering trees at Mount Vernon. Except for one short visit, he would not be home for eight years.

9 comments:

  1. I have this one in my stack if anyone is interested in reading it with me. I think it looks fascinating, and a nice bridge into my other Robert Whelan books. I also have the one on Uncle Tom's Cabin coming.

    Speaking of Robert, was he ever able to get back in?

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  2. Robert suffered another stroke. He wrote to tell me a couple weeks back. I assumed he wrote others as well. I haven't heard more on his condition, but the fact that he was able to write seems to indicate it is milder this time around. We should all send him our best during this time.

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  3. Thanks for the update. I will email him.

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  4. I started this tonight and it's lovely, but she seems to miss the fact, at least with Washington, that this was an agricultural nation. She does make an interesting point, however. Washington took the "revolutionary" approach to planting his estate with native trees and shrubs. But she seems to dismiss the fact that when he expresses delight in planting the trees "with his own hands," it is actually the hands of slaves doing the work.

    I'm now reading about Jefferson's tour of English gardens. Of the four she highlights (Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Madison) I think he can be seen as a true gardener. Be interesting to see if she acknowledges his use of slaves to plant his gardens as well, however.

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  5. I just sent Robert a short e-mail message. I take it that he recommended this book to you, Avrds?

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  6. Wulf wrote a previous book on other famous "gardeners" from around the world. Hard to think of Washington as a gardener, or for that matter Jefferson, as they both had extensive plantations, and were pursuing agriculture from a commercial interest. Unfortunately, neither was particularly successful in this regard.

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  7. Well, she conflates "gardening" with agriculture of all sorts and explains that in the opening. But she writes as if Washington's obsession with his trees etc sets the stage for American environmentalism. A bit of a stretch I think, although interesting to think about.

    There are a few themes during that period that do seem to help define American character: no taxes, discard anything Old Worldish, and become self sufficient when it comes to food, etc. And it's always fun to see someone focus on one aspect of some of these individuals.

    I call my mini collection of revolutionary history and presidential biographies my "Robert Whelan collection" because I rarely read these kinds of books before the NY Times group.

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  8. There was an Arcadian idyll, especially in regard to Jefferson. Washington wasn't quite so obsessed. I suppose she likens them both to "gentleman farmers," a very English thing, but alas the industrial revolution was quickly supplanting this kind of lifestyle, much to Jefferson's chagrin.

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  9. bosox here,This does look like an interesting read.Sorry to hear about Robert.His not being here is missed.

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