In All the Presidents' Gardens: Madison's Cabbages to Kennedy's RosesHow the White House Grounds Have Grown with America (Timber Press, 2016), author Marta McDowell takes you through 200+ years of White House garden history, from the Adams family, who first occupied the new executive mansion, to the Obamas. Thomas Jefferson laid out some of the private spaces as we know them today: the South Lawn and the front entrance to the residence. But despite his keen interest in horticulture, he mainly worked with architect Benjamin Latrobe on the layout of the city, and finally, around 1804, the duo devised a plan for the White House grounds.
With Jefferson's plan in hand, James Madison began planting the grounds. Large trees, like the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), sugar maple, and English walnut, joined understory plantings like redbuds and buckeyes, as well as hollies and pines. He also planted a vegetable garden and hired the first White House chief gardener.
When the British burned the White House to the ground during the War of 1812, it took some time for the grounds to be restored. James Monroe added a decorative fence; John Quincy Adams planted a number of fruit trees; Andrew Jackson added Southern magnolias to the front lawn.
In later years, there were conservatories and fountains, carnations and wisteria vines, camellias and roses. But it was Jack and Jackie Kennedy who took another keen interest in the grounds, and transformed the West Wing gardens with the help of friend and dedicated gardener "Bunny" Mellon, along with landscape architect Perry Wheeler. Jackie's famous Rose Garden is still a favored site for summer presidential ceremonies and meetings. The East Garden, long used by presidents' families, was redesigned as well, but it was finally installed by Lady Bird Johnson in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy.
George H.W. Bush added a horseshoe pit to the grounds; the Clintons installed some modern sculpture; Laura Bush updated the Rose Garden plantings; and Michelle Obama took a shovel to the South Lawn and established the White House Kitchen Garden.
In the back of the book, there are brief biographies of the 14 White House head gardeners, and there's a complete list of shrubs, trees, and vines.
A great book for summer reading, especially in this election year. Who knows what Clinton or Trump -- or maybe even another candidate -- would add to the historic landscape.