". . . Now I shall plant, if at all, more for the public than for myself." John Quincy Adams, diary entry for July 5, 1826, shortly before beginning the first major planting program at the White House. Massachusetts Historical Society
During his eight years as president (1801-09), Thomas Jefferson hired the White House's first gardener, whose duties included the cultivation of a kitchen garden. However, it was
not until 1825, when John Quincy Adams became president, that the vegetable garden and surrounding grounds began to flourish. Adams established a tree seedling nursery
and an impressive two-acre garden filled with vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees, as well as flowers, shrubs, and shade trees.
By the 1840s, a new kitchen garden had been planted southwest of the White House, and a corresponding ornamental garden to the southeast. Most of the surviving records for this kitchen garden date to the administration of President Abraham Lincoln (1861-65). Receipts for seeds show that the Lincolns enjoyed an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. The kitchen garden was finally removed in 1871 during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, to make way for the construction of West Executive Avenue
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used the grounds during World War II to showcase her avid support of a Civilian Defense program for producing home-grown fruits and vegetables. Under her guidance, 10-year-old Diana Hopkins planted a demonstration "victory garden" in a flower bed south of the East Garden in the spring of 1943.
Diana, who lived in the White House with her father, Harry Hopkins, advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, maintained the garden throughout the summer as an example for Americans to follow nationwide.
In spring 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama, with the assistance of local schoolchildren, planted a new White House kitchen garden at the southwest end of the south grounds (to your left). This garden will provide fresh, seasonal produce for the first family to enjoy, and will educate American children about the importance of eating more vegetables and fruits as part of a healthier lifestyle.
"John Saul: Seed Voucher" [captions below illustrations, upper left:]
Local nurseryman and horticulturist John Saul (1819-97) supplied the seeds for the kitchen garden during the Lincoln administration. Under the guidance of the preeminent landscape gardener A.J. Downing, Saul also undertook the improvement of the National Mall, Smithsonian Grounds, Lafayette Square, and the Ellipse.
Receipts for seeds show that the Lincolns enjoyed an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of these selections, such as pears, strawberries, celery, carrots and lettuce are still common today.
John Saul, Receipt for Seed, Record Group 217, National Archives
". . . 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, letter to Charles Willson Peale, Poplar Forest, August 20, 1811, Library of Congress.
1867 Landscape Plan
This color plan of the White House grounds includes the only known rendering of the historic kitchen garden, located immediately west (left) of the house itself. Drawn in 1867, the plan shows the approximately one-acre garden as it appeared during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.
- Drawing No. 15, Record Group 121, National Archives.
From Planting to Harvest - White House Kitchen Garden Today:
[Three photos of the present garden: its seedling beds, harvested vegetables, and Michelle Obama with visiting youngsters.]