Life in gardens: sowing

Gardeners at the 1936 White Hse., Library of Congress“Grounds workers at White House, Washington, D.C.,” March 1936, by Harris & Ewing, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it.)

The National Park Service has maintained the White House gardens since 1933.

. . . [W]hile lawns are cultural (in the sense that they are meaning-laden), they are not the product of some pre-existing “culture,” and are instead the meaningful expression of political and economic forces. . . . Lawns are propelled into the landscape both by economic imperatives (e.g., real estate growth) and also by intentional and thoughtful efforts to produce certain kinds of subjects. Lawns are a strategy, therefore, both for capital accumulation and making docile and responsible citizens.

— Paul Robbins, from Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make Us Who We Are (p. 32)

Vintage landscape: First Birds

Wh.House birdhouse, Harding Admin., via Library of Congress“One of the many bird houses which Mrs. [Warren G.] Harding has installed in the White House grounds,” between 1921 and 1923, by National Photo Company, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

First Lady Florence Harding was a great advocate for better animal care and protection. In addition to the birdhouses, she also had squirrel huts placed around the gardens  — and had the animal trophy heads removed from the State Dining Room, according to her biographer Carl Anthony.

Early changes to the residence’s outdoor space were part of the Harding  Administration’s determination to banish the “gloom” of the war years under President Wilson,  wrote John A. Morello in Selling the President, 1920. “More bulbs and flowers would be planted, and birdhouses were installed in trees.”

At least some of the official birdhouses came from Evans Brothers, “Manufacturers of Bird House and Lawn Accessories,” on Main Street in Evanston, Illinois.

A tiny article in the August 18, 1921, Chicago Tribune says, “Sparrows, robins, and other birds who are flat hunting at present may be interested to know that Conroy Evans. . . has just received an order from Mrs. Warren G. Harding for several bird houses to grace the White House grounds. . . and that Mrs. Harding will supervise the placing of the houses in trees.”

Conroy Evans contributed brief reports on the movements of Evanston birds to Bird Life magazine.  In its fall issue of 1919, Evans Brothers also placed a small ad:  “Who’s the ‘Mr. Hoover’ for the Birds? Why Evans Bros. of course.”

From 1917 to 1919, Herbert Hoover (later President Hoover) became well-known for his work on food relief for Europe as head of the U.S. Food Administration and then of the American Relief Association.

The Sunday porch: rooftop retreat

As the summer heat comes to an end,* I thought you might enjoy this repeat porch from July 2012.

This sleeping porch for hot summer nights was added to the roof of the White House during the Taft Administration (1909 – 1913). Photo by National Photo Company, via Library of Congress.

It’s a little funny to think of the country’s first family climbing up to the roof to bed down in what is basically a shed with screened sides.

Click here to read more about sleeping porches.


*Fall officially begins on Tuesday in the northern hemisphere.

Life in gardens: Easter Monday

Life in gardens/enclos*ure: may pole dancing at WH, 1929, Library of CongressMay pole dance at the White House Easter Egg Roll, Monday, April 1, 1929, National Photo Company Collection, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

First Lady Lou Hoover added May pole and folk dancing to the annual event — but only briefly.  Apparently, the Depression was bad enough on its own.

(If you click on the photo and enlarge it, you can see the wonderfully fierce expression of one of the girls on the right side.)

Vintage landscape: spring rain

Showers, White House, early 1920s, via Library of Congress“Sidewalk in front of White House, Washington, D.C.,” early 1920s, by Harris & Ewing, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour. . .

— Geoffrey Chaucer, from “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales

Translation: April showers bring May flowers.

Today is Whan that Aprille Day — a day to enjoy “alle langages that are yclept ‘old,’ or ‘middel,’ or ‘auncient,’ or ‘archaic,’ or, alas, even ‘dead.’” This is the idea of @LeVostreGC (or Chaucer Doth Tweet), who blogs at Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.