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Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,172 ratings  ·  202 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
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Start your review of Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation
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
Apr 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: garden
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 ...more
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 ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars
Julieann Wielga
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ,
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 21, 2011 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 ...more
Too much hagiographic for my taste.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
For students of the founding era, FOUNDING GARDENERS offers a compelling study of the connection between agrarian ideas and the creation of the republic, examining the enlightened interest in nature of four of its most important figures (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison), including interesting portraits of the founders in their home gardens. The book is heavy on botanical detail, which can make for slow reading, at times.
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a newly obsessed gardener and as a lover of history, I found this book a wonderful read. I love this book! I will read it at least one more time. I'm going to buy a copy to have on a special shelf in my own personal Library along with The Encyclopedia of Dahias. ;-)
What can the founding fathers’ gardens tell you about them and early America? According to Andrea Wulf everything! Taking what could be a dry topic, Wulf digs into the botanical side of history to show how the farms and gardens of each of the founding fathers were microcosms of how they wished to shape America. Washington, the reluctant general and post-war president, focuses on popularizing native species and developing a distinctly American farm. Jefferson loves the theory of planning an ...more
A very interesting view of the founding fathers.
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
May 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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,
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Margaret Sankey
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I knew about the political and ocial status posturing of formals gardens in English country houses, and had vaguely considered this when I toured places like Mount Vernon, and I knew about Jefferson's collections of sample plants and animals, but Wulf puts this together in a much more significant way. Not only were gardens a key to self-sufficiency and survival, and proof that Americans could bend capricious nature to their benefit, it was also a public declaration that their connection to the ...more
Jun 26, 2012 marked it as to-read
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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Gwen - Chew & Digest Books -
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting mix of history and botanical science, some of which I knew and a lot of which I didn't because of that gardening focus. You're going to have to be interested in both to enjoy it.

Sidenote on Slavery: I am constantly astounded by the juxtaposition of what many of the founding fathers said and supposedly felt about slavery and what they actually did in their every day lives.

Jefferson was a visionary in gardening and many other subjects, and yet, much of what he experimented with
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm a gardener so, yes, I care about what George Washington planted in his front yard; but what was really interesting is that laying out a garden in that era was a political act. Rip out those old geometric formal plantings that harked back to monarchy and put in native plants in a naturalistic arrangement with, if possible, a vista to the West. Seriously, this book follows Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison from the Revolutionary War through their various positions and offices in the new ...more
Tammy Mannarino
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Possibly my favorite book that I've read this year. Wulf does a fantastic job of describing not only the gardening lives of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, but also how their philosophies and activities in the natural world shaped their thoughts and actions in forming our government. They believed in the United States as a country of fellow farmers. It was fascinating to learn about the excursions that many of our early lawmakers took to nurseries and gardens while they were hashing ...more
Gail Henry
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This was a really interesting and informative book -- well written, but it went a bit slowly due to the amount of detailed information that is covered! I found it wonderful, however, for dipping in and out. And it also was useful for helping us understand/remember more about Hamilton and the conflicts Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison had with him just prior to seeing the musical! That these busy men found (and took!) time to write so copiously about farming, gardening, design, etc., ...more
Trish Remley
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Most interesting aspect of the "founding fathers" and their basic obsession with plants and design of gardens both very large & small. Franklin, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison) As well as the plant side of these men, Wulf entwines the founding history of our nation as well. Interesting to know when solutions were not being found or agreed upon, many times a respite was found in visiting gardens & plant nurseries (note: John Bartram). Particularly Madison and Jefferson of ...more
Chris Leuchtenburg
I picked this out after loving Wulf's book about Humboldt, The Invention of Nature. But I gave up reading this one (actually listening to it) about half way through. It isn't a bad book, just not that interesting. The thesis, if there is one, appears to be that the founding fathers all valued their gardens and often walked outdoor (in there gardens) when pondering. That a group of farmers in an agrarian society would be interested in plants is just not that surprising. It seems mundane.

It might
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
There was a lot of great description and interpretation of intent in this book. I learned a lot and I think there's more to be told. I'm relieved to know who the heck L'Enfant was.

Ultimately, I was really disappointed at how the author largely ignored the role of enslaved people in everything that these men directed for their land, gardens, perception, etc. on their own property and in the development of Washington D.C. We are reminded that Washington's dogged commitment to a particular
Maureen Brooks
Nov 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a garden member. I wish the book geared more to the success and failures on creating the first American gardens by our founding fathers. It was more on how they shared seeds and cuttings from all people around the world to start in their own gardens. Guess I was hoping for a more detailed horticulture read through the entire book than political history lessons. The founding fathers all had this amazing vision of what could be in this new country with ...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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