George Washington, passionate farmer

 

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Aerial view of Mt. Vernon from the Potomac River.

I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world”. — George Washington

There is no evidence that George Washington did any physical gardening himself at Mount Vernon, but his influence on activities was apparent. His designs determined what plants were included and how the gardens appeared. Washington was directly involved in the development and redesigning of the gardens around the mansion.

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Mt. Vernon kitchen garden

Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved”                                             -George Washington

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A glimpse of the mansion from the kitchen garden.

Washington cared about the style and type of plants in his gardens and closely supervised all plantings at Mount Vernon.

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Mansion in the background.

It will not be doubted, that with reference either to individual, or National Welfare, Agriculture is of primary importance. In proportion as Nations advance in population, and other circumstances of maturity, this truth becomes more apparent; and renders the cultivation of the Soil more and more, an object of public patronage.”

George Washington, Eighth Annual Message to Congress, 1796

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Greenhouse roof in the background.

Every improvement in husbandry should be gratefully received and peculiarly fostered in this Country, not only as promoting the interests and lessening the labour of the farmer, but as advancing our respectability in a national point of view; for in the present State of America, our welfare and prosperity depend upon the cultivation of our lands and turning the produce of them to the best advantage.

George Washington  (Letter to Samuel Chamberlain, April 3, 178?)

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View from the greenhouse roof.

Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our lands; and nothing, in this State particularly, seems to be less understood. The present mode of cropping practiced among us, is destructive to landed property; and must, if persisted in much longer ultimately ruin the holders of it. “
George Washington
(Letter to William Drayton, March 25, 1786)

He was a very progressive farmer and experimented with new ideas and plants. He was a firm believer in maintaining soil health and applied compost to his fields and gardens. This process was called “manuring”.

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The compost shed at Mt. Vernon

“When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time.
George Washington (Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)

 

The back of the Mt. Vernon greenhouse showing one of the boxwood knot gardens. Potted plants were brought into the greenhouse to overwinter, the tall windows letting in enough light for them to survive.
The greenhouse also had a fireplace to supply additional heat. The heated air was ducted through flues and channeled under the floor. This was considered quite the innovation over the older method of ducting the hot air through walls and under windows.

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The Mt. Vernon greenhouse

I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.

George Washington, letter, Jul. 20, 1794

Happy Independence Day everyone!

 

Posted by Sylvia Hacker, Dona Ana Co. New Mexico MG