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Rodd Moesel: Early presidents were gifted farmers, gardeners

Oklahoman Published: July 5, 2014

Happy birthday, America! Hopefully, you and your family got the weekend of celebrations off to a great start yesterday. Our great country is 238 years old and gardening, horticulture and agriculture have been a key part of our country’s history and success from the beginning.

Many of our early presidents were gifted farmers and excellent botanists and gardeners. To this very day, two of the most visited gardens in America are those of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Va., and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, also in Virginia.

These two outstanding presidents were great students of the plants around them and not only raised vegetables, herbs, grains, berries and fruits for personal subsistence and to feed their families, guests and all those who lived and worked on their farms, but they planted lots of ornamental plants, shrubs and trees.

They both, as did many other early-day leaders and pioneer families, kept detailed records of plant performance, pollinated and did some of their own crosses or breeding, and experimented with different production techniques and timing.

From the earliest settlers there were many crop failures, including plants brought from Europe and other areas that did not work or adapt to these new lands and climates. Many other crops did work and that, combined with the great natural vegetation of America, led to great agricultural and gardening achievements after the first few tough years on this continent.

Soon we were exporting cotton, tobacco and many other crops back to Europe and around the world. Our farmers have been for a long time the most productive in the world because of the experimentation and imagination of our agricultural leaders since the early days of our country.

Since the example set in the early days to share plant material, notes and records, American farmers and gardeners have almost always shared their knowledge and plant stocks rather than hoarding.

Jefferson was such an active plant lover and botanist that one of his main reasons to promote the Louisiana Purchase and the following Lewis and Clark Expedition was to discover all the new plants and genetics in the vast new wonderlands of the Central and Western continent they opened up and later became part of these United States.

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