Thomas Jefferson said, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest, a continued one thro’ the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table. I am still devoted to the garden. But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
Thomas Jefferson started the first White House garden in the early 1800s. He hired the White House’s first gardener, who also cultivated a kitchen garden. John Quincy Adams established a tree seedling nursery and a 2-acre garden with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, as well as other plants. The Lincoln family in the 1860s also grew fresh fruits and vegetables. But in 1871 the kitchen garden was removed for the construction of West Executive Avenue.
Elanor Roosevelt during World War II started the kitchen garden again, but it was only a small plot of land that a 10-year-old Diana Hopkins (daughter of an advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt) cared for. This small Victory Garden set an example for other Americans who helped fight the war by planting their own Victory Gardens.
After the small Victory Garden during World War II, although Hillary Clinton was able to begin a small rooftop kitchen garden.
The most recent White House kitchen garden began in spring of 2009 when Michelle Obama and local schoolchildren planted a garden on the south lawn. The First Lady wanted to inspire young Americans to eat healthier. The seeds for the latest White House kitchen garden come from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home in Virginia. Jefferson had his ambassadors collect and bring back plant seeds from their travels, so he amassed a great diversity of plant seeds.
In the Obama kitchen garden, there are 55 varieties of vegetables, including arugula, cilantro, tomatillo, peppers, spinach, chard, collards, kale, berries, lettuce and many types of herbs. A beekeeper also collects honey from the bees that inhabit the White House kitchen garden.
Michelle Obama has said, “The garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food. So that’s the story of the garden, and it’s been quite an amazing success.”
Free tours of the White House are available to students on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 am. Kids can have a guided viewing and explanation of the garden (the tour does not include entrance into the White House).