Don’t forget to vote—and even if your candidate doesn’t win, you can win this book!

Donna Lane11 comments1121 views
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We have a winner! Congrats: Linda Gribko!

We posted about All the Presidents’ Gardens when Timber ran a contest to win a trip to DC, but didn’t get into too much detail. It’s a really fun book; it’s also very well-researched by author Marta McDowell and exhaustively covers every administration from George Washington to Barack Obama, complete with lists of head gardeners and plants.

Readers will find that Frances Cleveland (1885–1889, 1893–1897) was the first to plant Japanese maples at the White House and that Henry Pfister, my favorite of the WH head gardeners, had almost a dozen forcing houses, including two for roses, one for grapes, one for violets, and two for orchids. Those were the days. Bulb forcing was common and Ffister grew over 300 pots of fuchsias. He also seemed to have been obsessed with a plant I’ve never heard of, cineraria, sort of a bushy combination of daisy and dianthus. It’s a long way from the prosaic bedding schemes of many public institutions today.

The Kennedys created a new Rose Garden.

This history of how the White House grounds have changed over time is filled with fascinating anecdotes, archival documents, and beautiful photography. It’s also the easiest way to get a sense of the presidential gardens, which are only open to the public on two weekends a year.

During WWI, sheep grazed on the WH lawn and everyone was encouraged to plant food.

Pfister’s greenhouses disappeared under the Theodore Roosevelts; their space was needed for a White House expansion, and he became redundant. But there were always new schemes under each administration, new ways to bring the gardens up to date with whatever landscaping fashion was taking hold at the time. As we all agree, food growing is the thing now, and the Obamas have a productive vegetable garden. What will become of it? We’ll see. Hillary Clinton has said she’ll keep it up; no word on it from the other candidate.

Drop a comment (try to actually say something, if you can) and I’ll send a randomly drawn winner a copy of this book. I can assure you that reading it will be a lot more fun than this election has been! My polls close at 9 p.m. EST; that’s when this contest will end.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on November 8, 2016 at 9:04 am, in the category Books.


  1. How wonderful! It seems like the presidential gardens have evolved and changed quite a bit over the years, which is fascinating. I wonder how that kind of change compares to gardens at capitols in other countries over the years.

  2. It was so telling when they broke ground for the White House vegetable garden and it was so hard. I’m grateful for the positive PR for vegetable gardening and hope it continues for at least 8 more years. This looks like an interesting read.

  3. A few years ago, we were lucky enough to get tickets for the annual garden tour at the White House. It was interesting, but I was disappointed at how limited the tour actually was. I guess I had thought we would see much much more

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