All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America

Hachette Audio. Jan. 2024. 5:22 hrs. ISBN 9781668639795. $18.99. HIST
Horticulturist and landscape historian McDowell (Gardening Can Be Murder) digs into the history of the White House gardens. She notes that the 18-acre plot surrounding the White House has been continually tended since 1800, 10 years after the permanent site of the U.S. capital was selected. In this book, first published in 2016 and now available in audio, McDowell presents a chronological study of the evolution of the White House grounds, dwelling upon various presidential administrations that played pivotal roles in its development. Narrator Marni Penning furnishes a lively performance of McDowell’s humorous anecdotes, such as how Eisenhower installed a putting green on the South Lawn and how Taft’s milk cow Pauline last grazed on the White House lawn in 1912. Penning’s conversational tone engages, although her oddly placed emphases impart a snarkiness that is at odds with McDowell’s overall approach. McDowell resolutely focuses on the gardens and grounds, eschewing political discussions. This approach may appeal to some listeners, but those seeking a more nuanced discussion of the workforce that enabled the creation and continuation of the gardens will likely be disappointed.
VERDICT A lighthearted survey of the White House gardens, entertaining if occasionally insubstantial.
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