Our White House Garden

It is always an unusual event when you copy someone else and end up discovering that you made the original.

As I mentioned last winter in “Camp Obama“, the President and First Lady might have considered breaking ground on their starter garden in private rather than in public.

Maybe it’s just my innate sense of caution, but I feel that they would have had a luckier outcome up in the hills of Maryland rather than the klieg-lighted fishbowl of the White House. However, kudos to the administration for giving it a try.

The problem, apparently, is they didn’t do a soil test to discover the toxic waste in the sludge in the lawn. Nevertheless we at Burpee were so inspired by the First Lady that we created an exact replica of the White House garden here at Fordhook Farm. We simply used the diagram they provided and as close an approximation of the cultivars as we could guess.

You can see the results in the photos below. Thank goodness, we didn’t have any lead or heavy metals in our soil. We simply used a little bit of granular fertilizer at the beginning of the season.

In order to complete the scene for the press release shown below, I decided to wear white–as in White House–and include my black dog, Nathan, as in “Bo”.

We planted a second sowing of salad greens and brassicas for the fall. These pictures were taken just a couple days ago. Anyone who takes us up on our offer to join us at our Fall Heronswood Open will be able to see the White House Garden for themselves. Since the president’s staff down in D.C. is replacing the soils at the site, the gardens aren’t there anymore. Therefore, what started out as a copy, became the original.

Hope to see you at the Open, September 25 and 26.



President Obama’s decision to plant a garden at the White House has been welcome news to both America’s gardeners and non-gardeners.
Inspired by the First Family’s example, W. Atlee Burpee & Co. decided to plant its own version at Fordhook Farm in Doylestown, PA. Fordhook is where the nation’s leading home gardening company trials most of the vegetables it sells by catalogue, at retail stores and on the internet. According to the man responsible, the garden’s results have been outstanding.

“The White House Garden has done a great job of showcasing the advantages of growing your own vegetables,” says George Ball, chairman of Burpee and proprietor of Fordhook Farm. “In creating our Fordhook version of the garden, we chose to make some alterations in what we planted in view of soil conditions and typical weather conditions experienced over a long period of time.”

“While we included some heirloom varieties,” Mr. Ball notes, “We were careful to include hybrids that we felt would produce in greater quantities and superior quality.”

“Gardeners in the Northeast who planted heirloom tomatoes organically this year had a poor harvest–due to the long spell of gray, damp days that resulted in the well-known Tomato Blight of 2009. Most heirlooms had no resistance to this blight. There was little even the most experienced gardener could do to contain it.”

What will happen to the bountiful harvest predicted for Burpee’s White House Garden?

“We have an Autumn Garden Tour which will be open to the public scheduled for September 25 & 26,” says Mr. Ball. He adds, “We are considering a special Presidential Luncheon if President Obama or The First Lady could attend. As fellow gardeners, we will have plenty to talk about.” Plans for the luncheon menu will include a full range of freshly harvested vegetables.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009 at 3:45 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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24 Responses to “Our White House Garden”

  1. Barbara said:

    Is that rhubarb in all those colors? Fabulous, you are looking very presidential and I love your blog!

  2. Bonnye said:

    You are a nut! I love it!

  3. Jim Hood said:

    I find a low-grade, but constant, ungenerous spirit towards the First Family’s gardening efforts on your part. Gardeing is one of the few places where we can hopefully pull back from negativity and politics. Not all of us have the good fortune you enjoy of perfect soil and great privacy.

    Rather than discouraging a garden at the White House why not encourage, or even advise? Raised beds would surely provide a place for lead free soil. And all gardens, even rural gardens contain some lead. the question is the level. I live within the downtown of Boston and my lead level is fortunately low enough for me to grow vegetables for myself and a woman’s homeless shelter.

    Gardening and civics both call for a positive spirit – let’s work towards that.


    Jim Hood

  4. George said:

    Dear Mr. Hood

    I am amazed that you think I have a low grade opinion of the Obamas. My blog, Camp Obama, is evidence enough that the opposite is true.

    As for the WH garden recreation, I will look forward to someone with a horticultural background helping them, rather than their yuppie chef from Chicago. The records that city sludge was used on the lawn less than 12 years ago, as I read the stories in Mother Jones and the NYT, were on file. The sloppiness with which the gardens were planned was extraordinary. Perhaps advocacy caused them to rush too quickly, in which case the advocates might reconsider how they go about things, agitating the WH staff so aggressively to act so quickly.

    As for lead content, I can assure you that I wouldn’t consider it to be acceptable in an “organic” garden. Finally, I was trying to be a bit ironic and even funny about the “original” reference to which so many have taken offence. My gosh, the only recreation of the WH garden that we know of, and it gets dissed for being too good a job. But, I think you’re onto something. The country has been rubbed so raw by the media (although I don’t watch tv or listen to the radio), that we all need a “politics break” here at H’wood Voice. No more politics, I promise.

    I commend you for your work. Our excess veggies go to a local mental health facility.

    Thanks again for posting,
    George Ball

  5. As the new Executive Director of the VanVleck House & Gardens I would love to capture some of this “food not lawn” energy and re-create the Victory Garden that the VanVleck family had here during the war years.

    I think that that means I need to take a journey out to visit you on your Open Garden Day. The pictures are awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Terri said:

    Your garden looks wonderful and so do you! Love the suit and glad you included “Bo” in your pics! Thank you for sharing them!

  7. Mimi Mitchell said:

    Toxic waste in the White House soil sounds pretty sinister. I’ll bet it was milorganite,a lawn fertilizer, which comes from the sewage treatment plant in Milwaukee. It is sterilized and is only bad to use for vegetables because the cadmium level is high. But I doubt if the First Family was eating contaminated food.

    Yes, why in the world didn’t they check the soil before they rushed in. Putting “toxic waste” aside, any soil would have needed some amendments. I hope they will have some professional advice next time.

  8. Sandra said:

    I just love looking at your website..

    But i live in an apartment and had to sell all my plants to get back to Ohio from Oregon.



  9. Jagan n Sharma said:

    You are a very creative person. CONGRATULATIONS

  10. L Saltford said:

    Dear George,

    Your garden is a thing of beauty and a promise of hope. I also must complement you on your snappy white suit, patriotic tie and flags and your buddy-pooch Nathan. And thank you for the visuals of the garden for all of us who were unable to see the original one in Washington, DC. You did us all proud.


    L Saltford

  11. Ruth Uppena said:

    That was refreshingly beautifull. Thank you.

  12. Robert DEMAREST said:

    The garden is great, but seeing George in a white suit and American Flag tie was worth perusing the entire web log.

  13. TC said:

    “The problem, apparently, is they didn’t do a soil test to discover the toxic waste in the sludge in the lawn.”

    Can you provide the source where you heard about “the problem” please? I’ve not heard a thing. Are they keeping it a secret? Was there ever a press release about it somewhere?

  14. Liz Anderson said:

    What a great idea for kids to have a garden just like the First Family’s! Thank you for the photos and you look great out there in your white suit with the Lab! So American!!!

  15. Geri Way said:

    I like the tie.

  16. JOyce Huston said:

    I am so very Proud of you !!!! The Red White and blue tie says it ALL. WAy to Go !!!
    Hope your garden serves a MILLION !!!! Keep the Let-Us Growing !!!!!!!! Joyce

  17. wanda said:

    I love all of your articles, you have a way with words to say the least. I think you would be a good person to share a glass of iced tea with and talk about life and gardening for hours. If you are ever in north Alabama, I hope I can meet you in person. Keep writing and encouraging people like me in life and in gardening. Thanks for both.

  18. shannon Wiggins said:

    I see you have Merrigolds planted in your garden. I also did that for my summer garden and i DO believe that is waht made it insect free!
    Enjoy your articles.

  19. DC Harrison said:

    The pictures look grate! I`m a man that LOVES GRADENING. So when I see people getting back to gardening ,it makes my heart sing! It`s so much healther and you know whats real or not. I think every body should give gardenig a chance, You`ll Hoocked For LIfe. At I am

  20. Norma said:

    Absolutely beautiful.

  21. Paul said:

    Here is a link to one of the sludge articles.

  22. Rebecca Sink-Burris said:

    “Nathan makes a great stand-in for “Bo”, except that I picture young “Bo” tearing up a garden rather than acting like the well behaved “Nathan”. Your wonderful dog looks like he would never wander off the path and trample on even a single plant.

  23. Erick of California said:

    George… dont’ let ’em fool you. There is a distinct difference between “politics” and being “politically correct”. (which is another way of saying be quiet and don’t speak truth) Let a privileged few embrace the reality, …pull the wool over the eyes of the masses and make off with what they can at our expense. (Like the bailout of late) Hell… lets have a tea party in your garden and invite the Bostonian, I wonder what side of the table he will sit. Be outspoken and truthfull George. That is one thing I have found in many of us that really love our land (and our gardens). What do you say? Lets grow our own tea! The “problem” as I see it is you would not like to be a politician…OK, OK, but stay politically savy and speak truth. I think that would be fair. And hey! I love the tie too.

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