Much has been written about a “White House garden” even to the absurd extent of tearing up the front lawn and planting vegetables and herbs—a giant kitchen garden. Ghastly. While I sympathize with the proponents, I disagree with their tactics, as well as over zealousness. In short, they’re not thinking like gardeners.
If they wish for a “garden agenda” to be high on President Obama’s list of priorities, they should start with an evaluation of the status quo. The White House is, first and foremost, a fish bowl. No one is going to roll up his sleeves and “return to the land” on that piece of real estate. Also, First Lady Laura Bush had a rooftop vegetable garden (she’s a big gardener). The Obamas would do well to keep it going and learn from the chef or whoever else helped Laura tend it.
The second phase of a realistic garden agenda would be to focus on Camp David. I predict Obama will spend much time there. It’s got several nice spots where he can be alone and work out his gardening likes, dislikes, solutions, techniques, etc., in private, as the rest of us do when we start out.
Gardens—and especially vegetable plots—are practiced in solitude and peace, as well as private. I remember making mistakes as a kid and thanking the Lord that no one could see them. Vegetable gardens are a bit like car garage fix-it spaces. You work on that old baby inside until she’s ready to be seen. Maybe. I have friends who work on their cars out front, but they’re living in rural areas, where “front” has very little meaning.
Actually a fishing camp, Camp David probably has rocky soil, so amending it would be the first project. Then, in a sunny spot, he and Mrs. Obama could cultivate a small patch at first, especially so the daughters may enjoy it. By 2010, a larger garden would evolve. Soon it would supplement weekend meals for not only the first family but also the entourage, visitors and staff.
The development of a Camp David garden would generate the sort of “buy in” a White House garden would never do. Then, during 2011 or 2012 an appropriate design could be made and a family garden installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It would be a natural extension of what they learned at Camp David. Not only would the photo op be more timely (he has enough to think about now) but the whole project would be more authentic.
Having already created a garden at Camp David (“Michelle’s Garden”?), the President and his family would now, with the White House garden, be sharing their enthusiasm with the public.
I’d encourage the President to take this low-key approach. The nation’s gardeners wish him well.