Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were all keen gardeners, and cows grazed round the White House building site. The message then was sturdy self-reliance, and in Jefferson's case, progress through science, in the form of genetic modification through plant breeding.
Washington and Jefferson did not of course plant, muck and weed their lettuces personally, as the Obamas plan to do. Plantation-owners had slaves for that. So Michelle's garden is part of a reclamation by the slaves' descendants of the entire polity, of which the garden is an ancient if conservative image. (Enclosed Scottish estates are actually called policies.)
There's an even older echo. Plantation slaves kept their own gardens to feed themselves.
So the White House kitchen garden marks a full stop at the end of a long line of gardens of slaves and gerdens tended by slaves. Eleanor Roosevelt launched victory gardens. Michelle's is a liberation garden.
02 April 2009
James Wimberley at The Reality-Based Community offers yet more reasons why the new White House garden is awesome.