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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, And The Shaping Of The American Nation

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  765 Ratings  ·  148 Reviews
From the author of the acclaimed The Brother Gardeners, a fascinating look at the founding fathers from the unique and intimate perspective of their lives as gardeners, plantsmen, and farmers.
For the founding fathers, gardening, agriculture, and botany were elemental passions, as deeply ingrained in their characters as their belief in liberty for the nation they were creat
Kindle Edition, 385 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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May 16, 2011 Bennet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I get in the mood for gardening and gardening books about this time every year. The book also suits the mood for early Americana. And reading it I was reminded how integral the land and nature were to the human psyche back then. If nothing else there was so much more of it to contend with, and fewer mitigating distractions.

Wulf’s account explores founding concerns about good stewardship of natural resources, gardening being a means. She focuses on Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. Agric
This book covers the period of time in which George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison helped to design a new country while simultaneously designing the landscapes of their estates. The author deftly weaves between dilemmas they faced such as “should states be represented equally by number or variably by population?” and “how can I get my hands on one of those fabulous Kentucky coffee trees that James Madison’s neighbor grows?“

This isn’t an especially fast read, but is
a bit of a slog as wulf takes a fairly rigorous academic approach, but that said, what other way would she? an interesting way to think about english/n amer colonies and the explosion of enlightenment and science (and trading/publishing written material and botanical goods back and forth across atlantic) and the people who fomented revolution and set up a new govt in n amer. via their gardens, farms, and passions for growing things melded to idea of this making one free, or freeer (unless of cou ...more
This is a lovely book about Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison's approach to the natural environments in which they lived. Wulf writes about their differences in personal philosophies regarding nature, gardening, landscaping, crop cultivation and popular agricultural philosophies of their day. What I found of most interest was the degree of agricultural experimentation these presidents were participating in on their own farms/gardens(to the degree that they helped introduce what are consid ...more
Julieann Wielga
Jul 06, 2012 Julieann Wielga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Founding Gardeners (Knopf 2011) Andrea Wulf
Andrea Wulf lives in London, her degree is from London Royal College of Art, so it seems that her perspective on the Founding Fathers come from both sides of the Atlantic.
Her point is that gardening, farming, within our huge expanse of untame nature was integral with our founding fathers’ confidence in that we could become a nation independent of Britain. It is also the occupation, center, and preoccupation to which Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Adams ,
Aug 03, 2016 J.S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've read much about the founding fathers you hear a lot of little 'mentions' about their gardens. George Washington took time even while fighting the British to send instructions to his plantation manager regarding Mount Vernon. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson spent weeks touring gardens in England, and Jefferson and James Madison later did the same in America. And the gardens at Jefferson's Monticello and Madison's Montpelier are still famous and visited by many today. But all you get in ...more
May 22, 2016 Connie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I bought this book in paperback one frigid January day 2 years ago when a friend and I toured Mt. Vernon and its grounds. There aren't many people touring George Washington's home and gardens in winter. I got copies of Founding Gardeners for friends I knew would like it, too. I started to read it -- then lost it in my study. How do you lose a book in a small room? I've been straightening the room out but Founding Gardeners hasn't revealed itself. So I bought it on Kindle. It's a wonderful book, ...more
May 29, 2016 Kenneth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gem this book is. Andrea Wulf opens our eyes to a secret love that several of the founding fathers shared, a love of gardening.
Wulf details that even as British ships gathered off Staten Island, George Washington wrote his estate manager about the garden at Mount Vernon; how a tour of English gardens renewed Thomas Jeffersons and John Adamss faith in their fledgling nation; how a trip to the great botanist John Bartrams garden helped the delegates of the Constitutional Congress break thei
Aug 08, 2011 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephanie by: Adkins Arboretum
I am really enjoying this book...If you are a master gardener (which I am an intern) botanist or lover of history, this book is for you...Its so much fun to pour over the diaries and letters of the famous and peel back the layers to find out they shared a common love of gardening that is so popular today.....Wulf nicely weaves the story of historical gardening in the US with the Revolutionary War events and early history as backdrops...One sees the connection between the new ideals of the foundi ...more
Sep 01, 2016 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gardening
"Founding Gardeners" offers a fresh perspective on our country's beginnings and the men who were responsible for its founding. I gained a new respect for Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and other historical figures of the period, and a new appreciation of the geography and indigenous plants of the United States. Our "founding fathers", it seems, were also early environmentalists, agronomists, and horticulturists! This was a very enjoyable and educational book. Founding Gardeners: The Revol ...more
Jun 08, 2011 Piedad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I completely enjoyed this book. It tranported me to early american history and frankly was surprised by how very important botany was to the intellect of the founding fathers. In botany they found peace, ideas, philosophy, economic reform, exploration, revolution, independance and pure joy. I had taken for granted the enormous diversity of plants available to us now at the click of a mouse or a trip to homedepot, back then that was not the case. The treasures that the colonies, later early indep ...more
Dec 18, 2011 Lynne-marie rated it really liked it
Not as exceptional as Wulf's Brother Gardeners, this volume was nevertheless full of insights into the founding fathers and their preoccupations with gardening. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and to a lesser extent Adams were all wrapped up in the use of indigenous species to honor America's capital and their homes. Some of them had mansions for which they planned lavish gardens to display specimen trees from around the colonies. It is instructive that they were all constantly kept aware of wh ...more
Oct 30, 2011 Erica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, accessible pop history of the early presidents and their gardens--with the lovely thesis that gardening was, and remains, a political act in America.

Wulf evokes the life history of the Founders through the lens of their gardening and plantations, to quite nice effect. The book accomplishes a lot--and it's no small feat that Wulf has called an entirely new popular audience into the early national world of presidents. I regularly recommend this book to students on a single-chapter basis, sa
Jan 29, 2012 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting and readable book that combines history and botany. The founding fathers - Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison - all believed in an agrarian nation. Their lives as farmers and gardeners strongly reflected and influenced their political thinking and patriotism. The book begins shortly after the revolution, when Washington is newly elected as the first president and ends in 1836, with the death of James Madison. Along the way, they guided not only our political str ...more
Jul 25, 2015 Margaret marked it as on-hold  ·  review of another edition
I set this book aside unfinished. I enjoy this author, and know I'll get back to the book at some point. But it's not what I want right now. It's a bit different from Brother Gardeners, which is the first book of hers I read, and one I recommend highly.
Dec 21, 2012 Elena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book reminds you that our early Presidents were living in a world where they had to grow what they eat and were not able to go to the local grocery fora bag of frozen veggies. Gardening supported their lives. This is an excellent view of gardens from a historical point of view.
Florence Millo
Oct 22, 2016 Florence Millo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Founding Gardeners

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is about the horticultural interest of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. While I knew that Washington, Jefferson, and Madison had plantations in Virginia, I didn't realize how innovative and forward thinking they were in their agricultural endeavors. The book is interesting and well written. The notes, appendices, drawings, and bibliography are excellent resources for anyone interested in the gardens and farms
Richard Levine
A mildly interesting history of several of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison) and how they were influenced and/or shaped by their work as farmers and gardeners. From that, Wulf tries to show -- not always convincingly, in my view -- how aspects of the founding of the American nation were affected by this interest in gardening. I found the parts about Washington and Madison to be somewhat more convincing and explanatory than the parts about John Adams and Thomas Jeff ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, gardening
Founding Gardeners was a refreshing perspective on our Founding Fathers Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Adams. We remember them as statesmen, presidents and revolutionaries, but there were primarily farmers and gardeners. All shared a passion for botany and formed friendships over their common interests. They all believed that America would become a great nation based on the wealth of the natural world. Experimental plots on their various properties tested the hardiest and most productive see ...more
Emily Park

Andrea Wulf, a British design historian, takes us on a journey around the world with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison in Founding Gardeners. For the purposes of this book, "gardening" is used loosely, and can refer to gentlemen who simply oversee the planting and cultivation of an estate, either with servants or slaves. Each chapter is devoted to either a particular man or a particular significant event in early American hi
Brooke Everett
Feb 17, 2013 Brooke Everett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I picked this up, I was definitely a little nervous that it would be tedious and dry, but it was full of fascinating nuggets and gems. It's clear that this book was the product of extensive, deep research. I particularly loved the chapter describing the early days of Washington, DC, as well as all of the anecdotes confirming that Thomas Jefferson was the man. This book has also inspired me to visit Bartram's Garden this summer, as it's suggested here that it played a supporting role in the ...more
Erika RS
May 29, 2012 Erika RS rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The premise of this book is a charming one: many of the founding fathers, particularly Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington, were avid gardeners. What lessons can their passion teach us?

These individuals do, indeed, have lessons to teach us, but, it seems, not quite a book's worth. These founding fathers embraced an ideal which held up the independent, innovative, beauty loving farmer as the ideal citizen (indeed, for Jefferson, this was the only type of citizen that a republic can be built
Jan 15, 2016 Phil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent study of the significance of agriculture during the colonial period following the Revolutionary War. While the new United States was founding its own personality and political structure, it was also defining itself through its attitude toward nature and especially in agricultural pursuits.

As with its form of government, which had never existed before, what it meant to be an American began to form in the minds of its leaders. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison all came
Max Wilson
Jun 24, 2013 Max Wilson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find myself wanting a good book on American History every year around the 4th of July and this one didn't disappoint. This is a wonderful book; I highly recommend it. Wulf's work is well researched but reads well too. She illustrates the often forgotten importance of gardening to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and others of the revolutionary generation. As she points out, these men thought about gardening as much as they did politics. Her discussion of the interrelationship of horticult ...more
Sep 01, 2015 Sobriquet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although we still assign some symbolism to flowers, it's easy to forget that it has not been that long since they conveyed all sorts of messages. In the case of founding fathers, both horticulture and agriculture became an avenue by which to express the ideals they wanted to espouse in the nascent days of the US. Through journals and correspondence, Wulf presents the thoughts of the founding fathers regarding their projects.

The reviews here already cover a great deal of what is in the book, but
Connie Kronlokken
Andrea Wulf has read the letters and papers of Washington, Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison looking for their shared feelings about the American land and the homes that they each built. John Adams had a small estate in Quincy, Massachusetts, while the other three had thousands of acres, worked by slaves. All of them were interested in better methods of farming and restoring the soil, which in Virginia had been damaged by the planting of tobacco.

Jefferson and Madison, Virginia plantation
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
This book is a 5-star book for people who really love plants and plant history. Usually the gardens of our forefathers get a mere mention in various books. Even Jefferson's well studied and frequently visited Monticello hasn't gotten a full survey in pop-sci to this extent (that I know of). Wolf really researchers her subject and there was a lot of information about how important people chose the agriculture that shaped our landscape today while, at the same time, shaping our political climate a ...more
Nov 12, 2014 Vickie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great account of the beginning days of our country and the men who were at the helm. Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison were all avid gardeners and lived for the moments they could spend at their respective homes.
Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition to bring back scores of plants, seeds, and various hides of animals residing in the west.
Jefferson and Adams toured English gardens looking for ideas and plants to bring back home.
Interesting fact: Jefferson,Adams and Monroe al
Apr 13, 2013 sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Given what I already knew about the founding fathers I didn't find the thesis of this book quite as hard to believe as some other reviewers seem to--a basic knowledge of Jefferson would have to include the fact that his experimental gardens at Monticello were his pride, joy, and obsession, and obviously for a couple hundred years Washington has been constantly compared to Cincinnatus for his continual desire to leave public life and return to his farm. It's pretty clear that agriculture and gard ...more
Aug 03, 2016 Monical rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book (from the library) after attending a farm-to-table dinner at a local farm. The farm tour guide mentioned the book while explaining their strategies for improving the soil. (and the dinner was really good, too!). this book was a lovely combination of history, personalities, politics and gardening. I knew that George Washington was a devoted gardener and serious experimental farmer (during a visit to Mt. Vernon, the guide made a point of discussing George's experiments and sa ...more
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Andrea Wulf is a biographer. She is the author of The Brother Gardeners, published in April 2008. It was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and received a CBHL Annual Literature Award in 2010. She was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and now resides in Britain.
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