Historian plants seeds of knowledge

Photo by Jennifer Rubino
Author of ‘All the Presidents’ Gardens,’ Marta McDowell, speaks at Cranford Community Center.

CRANFORD, NJ — On Tuesday, Jan. 17, author and garden historian Marta McDowell spoke at the Cranford Community Center about her recent book, “All the Presidents’ Gardens.” In it, McDowell tells the story of the White House grounds, starting with George Washington and ending with Barack Obama.

“America’s first forestry project was started by John Quincy Adams,” McDowell said during her presentation. “Adams used to collect seeds to plant in his garden.”

She also spoke about the “Jackson magnolias,” the magnolia trees at the White House that Andrew Jackson was famous for planting. She talked about when the West Wing was built and the glasshouse conservatories were removed. Roosevelt’s “mother’s garden” was named in honor of his mother and was a Colonial revival garden.

Vegetables were also grown in the garden for patriotic reasons. They were grown for food during wartime. Michelle Obama planted vegetables in the garden to help support her healthy eating and anti-obesity initiatives.

“Kennedy was known for upgrading the gardens and his rose garden is still there today,” McDowell said.

McDowell concluded her presentation by explaining why focusing on the beauty of the White House is especially important now.

“It’s a beautiful place,” McDowell said. “Let us look for common ground, no matter if we lean toward red or blue.”

Cranford residents who attended the presentation found it informative and interesting.

Many purchased a copy of the book and had it signed by McDowell after the presentation.

“Marta has a wonderful way of combining the history of our presidents with
their gardens at the White House,”

Deb Murphy of Cranford told the LocalSource in an interview.
“I found the creation of the glasshouse conservatories interesting and how they were dismantled to make the West Wing. I also enjoyed learning about the victory gardens, where they grew vegetables for the people during wartime.”

The presentation was organized by the Hanson Park Conservancy.
“I thought it was a fabulous, engaging, mixed-history lesson and garden presentation,” Hanson Park Conservancy President Kathleen Murray told LocalSource.

“I thought it was interesting how the gardens changed with each president and that many of the plants have been there so long.

“I didn’t realize how dedicated the head gardeners must have been.
“There were only 13 head gardeners, and the last head gardener worked there for 45 years.

“I enjoyed learning all about the 18-acre garden at the White House.”