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tv   The Presidency White House Grounds  CSPAN  July 9, 2021 10:39pm-11:17pm EDT

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view on corporate boards. how boards work and how they could work better in a chaotic world. at 9 pm, bestselling author james patterson, warmer president bill clinton discuss their thriller the president's daughter about the abduction of a former u.s. presidents daughter by terrorists. watch american history tv on saturday, and book tv on c-span two. up next on american history tv, we hear about the white house grounds and gardens from the author of the book a garden for the president. a history of the white house grounds. [applause] >> good morning. my name [applause] is doctor matthew costello, an incident director of the david m. rubenstein national center four white house history. it is a privilege to be with you this morning. also to see all the pieces come
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together. it's truly a privilege introduce our first speaker who is a fellow wisconsin i'd like myself. our first speaker this morning will be jonathan pliska, noted landscape historian and author of the award-winning white house historical association publication. a garden for the president, history of the white house grounds. jonathan will be signing copies of this book later in the day during the reception in the gift shop. we will have an opportunity to meet with him and talk about how great his presentation was. so, please join me in welcoming jonathan pliska. [applause] >> yes, hello. i am in fact jonathan pliska and i am absolutely honored to be speaking at this wonderful garden symposium. i'd like to thank the white house historical association and all the other sponsors for having me here today for hosting the events.
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as well as a splendid reception last evening at the u.s. botanic garden. and of course, thank you all for attending. my task here this morning is to give you an overview of the first 100 years or so of the white house grounds. focusing on the various uses a landscape as well as its physical development, and to squeeze this all in in a winter of 30 minutes. now, that's a bit of a tall order and we are obviously not going people to touch on absolutely everything. i like a challenge. i think will do just fine. >> let's start with the basics. as i'm sure you are aware, the white house is the official residence of the president to the united states. and located a few hundred yards south of here in downtown washington. the white house itself stands as the centerpiece of a grand 18.7 acre site, which we know is the white house grounds. having been established in 1790, the white house grounds in fact
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constitute the oldest continually maintained landscape in the nation. the grounds are older than the mansion itself. george washington is rather famously the only president who never lived in the white house. but every single u.s. president including washington as walked upon the grounds. this right here is where the grounds look like today. they burdened green sloping grass lawns and groves of grand trees. this is definitely the grounds look like in 1790. for one thing, the grounds originally stopped here. basically where this road is. it stopped there for about the first eight decades of the ground existence. the far south grounds were not added until 1872 under president grant. and the addition was to compensate for the loss of land on the east and west that was eaten up by the expansion of the executive offices. that's the treasury building and the state war and maybe building which is the
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eisenhower executive office. so, as i was saying, white house grounds did not always look quite as nice as they do today. in the great rush to complete the white house before president john adams moved in, on november 1st, 1800, it landscape was left completely neglected and an improved. in fact, as we've heard, it was still full of all the temporary structures needed for building the mansion. this included the carpenter shed, the little cottages that housed the workman directly on site as well as unused construction materials and even heaps of garbage. many of the pre-existing trees had been filled for firewood. the ground itself is terribly uneven and marked withhold stuck together for clay for the brick kiln's which are located on site. in short, the scene was deplorable. upon her arrival, first lady abigail adams was understandably less than impressed and wrote to her daughter that the place had, quote, not in the least fenced
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yard or other convenience. even so, she still saw the landscapes potential through all of this mess and closed the note by saying it remains a beautiful spot capable of every improvement. but the adams would not have the chance to make any improvements themselves. john adams lost his reelection bid, and only lived in the white house for a little less than four months. when the new president thomas jefferson moved in, the landscape remainder. visitors at the time described it as, quote, a barren stony and fenced waste that existed on a rough wild state. one english gentleman from the site found the site dangerous. in one words one is liable to fall into a pit or stumble into a pile of rubbish. but none of us deterred jefferson in the slightest, and almost immediately he got to work and proving the landscape. removing the temporary buildings we integrating the earth. jefferson's vision for the
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grounds commented and the landscape plan which is believed to have been executed it by his own hand and well it doesn't look very much like the current enrichment of the white house grounds, it's nonetheless absolutely vital because according to the basis for all future development. it also perfectly illustrates no white house grounds for more shortens got in there today. they're wider east and west. so very broadly speaking, jefferson's plan was around three key themes. the first two are related. he divided landscape into north and south grounds. but the white house itself was acting as the divided the biding line between the two halves. this may seem familiar, as most homes have american homes have front yards from the you can see from the street, and backyards. so this is the idea that he wanted. to have the north grounds for the public, and the south grounds for private use for the presidential household.
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overtime this distinction, between public and private place or space was blurred and changed. but even now it's restricted the grounds. southbound it's more homey backyard right now. where the front grounds or more formal. but jefferson wanted trees, lots of them in fact. also productive gardens for growing fruits and vegetables. and ornamental gardens for flowers and plants. in keeping with the special division of the landscape, the grounds would be on the north symmetrical. well on the southbound it would be picturesque. let's begin on the north grounds. standing on pennsylvania avenue, looking at the white house. this is the most iconic view of the mansion. who's coming to visit washington and not had their photo here standing near the fence. i know i have lots of times. today this is still the formal
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front lawn of the white house. the place where the public can get the closest to the home of the american president. this was even more true throughout the 19th century. when the public was allowed access to the north grounds. people were not shy about coming for a visit either, as we can see from this fantastic photo of these dapper gentlemen lounging on the north grounds. most fittingly in the grounds of the jefferson statue which was the centerpiece of the north grounds. and it was fine as long as they respected the first families right to privacy. and kept out of the south ground. so what do you think happened? well before very long, folks were making themselves quite at home in the presidents backyard as well. this started with andrew jackson's first inaugural reception. where more than 20,000 supporters descended on the
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white house, and ran through its rooms, before continuing the party outside on the south grounds. and to be fair, washington was still a young city, and lacking in parkland and other recreational spaces. people started to avail themselves of whatever ground they could find. because of this, by the mid 19th century, the entire white house landscape, functioned as a de facto public park. at times it was even referred to as public grounds. and some presidential households, dealt with the invasion of privacy's better than others. president grant hated all of the people to who turned up each afternoon to watch his children play outside. but he did not want to be labeled as a president who shut the people out. so you put up with it. benjamin harrison, he fell on the other side of the spectrum. they were good nature about
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living in the public eye, even posed for photographs. especially the president's young grandchildren, always drew attention. this was especially true when they were being carving around their pet goat. but eventually, and off was enough. when unwanted visitors went as far as to hoist president cleveland's baby daughter out of her carriage to get a better look at her, and post with her like she was a doll, he put his foot down to ensure her safety. what parent when do the same thing? so public access to the south grounds came to an end in 1893. then it return to what president jefferson intended, a private presidential retreat. that remains that way to this day. the north grounds in 1929, were closed due to security. today access to the white house
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grounds is prohibited. but there are of course exceptions to the rule, even this one. the best example is the easter egg roll. it's one of the longest and beloved events in all of white house history. how one day after easter, the 2019 egg roll just took place, for the 141st anniversary. less than 200 children showed up in 1878, to roll their hard boiled eggs, down the slipping south grounds. but the popularity has skyrocket since then. in 1890, the estimated attendance was up to 50,000. for more people than the grounds could accommodate. shortly after they would bar adults unless accompanied by a child. this was a good idea, but flood, because they started going back
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and forth through the gate, to bring in as many parents and charging them for each time coming in. since 2009, tickets have been issued in advance by lottery. attendance is limited to about 30,000. >> so now let's switch gears here a bit, talk about the physical development of the grounds. specifically all of the different types of plants on the landscape over the years. thomas jefferson, was a lifelong gardener, and it's romantic at least meet, think of him outside the white house, travel in hand, and toiling the soil. jefferson had to content himself to set the stage for his successors. one thing we know he did do, was places order for trees and shrubs shrubs, that arrived after james madison became
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president. 51 types of plants are on this list, including oak, elm, ash, beach trees. we know that these trees were planted, because one of his assistants wrote to him in 1809, sir if you are now the white house you would scarcely know it. the grounds have become a wilderness, of shrubbery entries. not exactly a wilderness of shrubbery and trees, but do any of these early trees or shrubs still survive today? it is possible. there is one large oak on the south grounds, that might be oldest in the mansion itself. but it's not very likely that most of these early planting survived. that's because the british burned the white house during the war of 1812. live leaving only the walls standing. so the best images this painting, which shows utter devastation.
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moreover, during the subsequent rebuilding of the white house grounds, once again they reverted back to a construction site. and the we've got used to the work accomplished under madison. thankfully in 1825, another plant loving president moved in. john quincy adams, with a lifelong interest in botany and horticulture, and it kept him moving from place to place, sadly his career and he was not able to do any guarding himself. but that change when he came to the white house, and he established a tree nursery. that's what we see here in the foreground of the image. all told, adams grew more than 700 saplings, with a wide variety of species. many in 1896, survived up to 1991. some of adams trees, also how special significant. being grown from seeds.
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he had a spanish set a spanish chestnut, white oak tree, riddled with bullets from the war of 1812. and english oak from the city of salem massachusetts, which were procured from the gallows tree. can the most famous tree, ever planted on the white house grounds, was the grand southern magnolias mailed magnolia, located just near the white house grounds. they say it was andrew jackson who put it in, who defeated john quincy adams of adams. both sides had particularly nance nasty campaigns. when rachael suddenly died, before his victory, jackson made it known that he believed the assault on her character and good name, killed his wife.
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he never forgave adams. grief stricken the widower president, brought seeds from the his wife's favorite trees, and planted them outside the white house in her memory. the story is more fiction than fact probably, neither jackson or any of his contemporaries ever mentioned the tree, and it does not appear in the earliest photos of the white house. or does not in any way, take from the love story, that the -- over the centuries. it may be the most famous, but the jackson magnolia, is far from the only tree planted in the white house grounds. the states to the year 1900, and marks the location of some large trees and shrubs. that's all of those tiny dots are. this is about the same amount of trees and shrubs on the grounds today it's about 500. beginning with rutherford hays in the 18 seventies, nearly every presidential
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administrations, has at least planted one tree, to commemorate their time at the white house. here are two that have survived, clean elizabeth the second is seen with george h. w. bush, in 1990, one 1996 bill and hillary clinton planted a dog would in honor of the oklahoma city bombing. and this absolutely beautiful rust colored japanese maple, planted by francis cleveland, in 1893. the same year the grounds were close to the public. the most recent tree was planted by first lady, in this case melania trump, who in august 2018, planted a saplings. from the original one that was planted by eisenhower in the fifties.
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other than trees what's grew on the grounds? up to about a decade ago, michelle obama installed a vegetable garden, fresh produce would not have been the first thing that came to people's minds, but prior to 2009, there had been no cultivation no serious cultivation at the white house for over hundred 50 years. but the truth is money for much of the 19th century, the white house crew a great deal of its own food. as for the first trees, they were planted under madison, and by jefferson in the waning days of his administration. this included cabbage, broccoli, and, i've cucumber, turn and leak. and john quincy adams, later wrote in his diary, about planting blood colored beads, why tariffs, parsnips, horseradish's, and jerusalem artichokes. fun fact, jerusalem artichokes,
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are neither artichokes or from the holy land. they are sunflower, native to north america, that grows rather like a potato. and adams further mentioned herbs, like margarine, sage, and others run by his skilled gardner. after he came to office, andrew jackson converted his former tree nursery, into a kitchen garden. for some 40 years, this place provided fresh food for the occupants of the white house to enjoy. destroying, shortly after the end of the civil war, showed the old kitchen garden at the big full extent. it was quite big, larger than the footprint of the -- white house. the garden is here, in this trapezoid area. as you can see it's divided up
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into eighth smaller sections. and it was run like a miniature farm. i should also point out these lines, have been vertically drawn here. these faint finds. that is the outline of the future west executive avenue. which separates the white house grounds from the executive -- office building. now, unfortunately because it was a working productive space, the old kitchen garden is not well documented. it wasn't pretty, glamorous so went largely unreported. there are no paintings and photographs and there isn't any visual record of it all. for the most part there isn't much of a paper trail to follow
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but after an awful lot of our cars i was fortunate to find the sales receipts, for the fruits and vegetables join grown in the white house garden. and if you're historian, you look for anything related to the white house. he is capable of making any little thing interesting and significant, even this list. something like president tailors tomatoes or buchanan's brussels sprouts just would not have the same cachet. so, of the fruits and vegetables appearing in this list, many are in cultivation. a good number exist such as heirloom varieties and can be purchased online by specialized growers. if you are stopped at local garden centers. this means that back yard gardeners can try to hide it during the same produce that graced president lincoln stable during the civil war. you can still do this which like to plant purple topped turnips or prince albert piece
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or christmas beans, or hunters cantaloupe? what about my personal favorite, if nothing else just from the name alone, -- which is basically the beats much larger cousin. now you can, and for the past few years, my wife ellen and i have done our best to do so at our suburban multiple baltimore home. i like to think i'm better historian than a gardener. i don't have a black thumb, but neither is it quite green. we've had more success with some than others and the biggest success by far was our cabbage harvest a few years ago. seriously, if we can grow this much cabbage, it's foolproof and a great plan to start off with. and now there's a silly photo of me that's going to be on c-span. okay. of course, what would the white house be without flowers? presidents john quincy adams and andrew jackson kept a flower garden on the west side
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of the south grounds. just like the old kitchen garden, its history has proven to be frustratingly elusive to track down. this is in fact the only known image of the original white house flower garden. it's not exactly much of a view, is it? the garden is located here in the middle ground of the photo. the only part that's really visible is this wooden structure, which is either a trellis -- before grounds donated by this crane used in the construction of the treasury building's west wing. in fact it was this expansion of the treasury that necessitated the removal of the original white house flower garden in the 18 fifties. for the rest of the 19th century, there really were no ornamental gardens on the white house grounds. there were of course still flowers planted in beds here and there about the landscape, such as these ranged around the north fountain. no real flower gardens in the way we think of them today. why would that be? frankly, because the president
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and their families don't have any outdoor space to plant such a garden. that's no private outdoor space to plant such a garden. the north grounds are open to the public as jefferson intended, but the south grounds were used as public parkland which as you will recall was not part of the original plan. instead, with the conservatory of 1857, the flower garden moved indoors to the white house. it became a private space for the first family to enjoy out of public view. this is early photograph of the white house conservatory, which is this large glass building here. in the conservatory, steamy and exotic and absolutely overflowing with all types of hothouse plants. 1:19 century news reporter somehow did manage to get inside, and describe the scene as, quote, almost like penetrating the luxurious fragrance of south american island. so warm and no difference is the atmosphere.
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and first lady lucy webb is seen here with her children, one of their friends in the conservatory through a tremendous amount of plants and was an avid gardener. she and her husband president rutherford hazy to set utilize the conservatory special way. both of them or teetotaller, so all alcohol was banned in his white house. after a dinner with guests, instead of serving drinks, they lead tours of the conservatory. this seems to have gone over surprisingly well with their guests coming away quite pleased by the experience. by about the year 1900, the single conservatory which is the big building here had grown into one vast glass house complex that ranged over much of the near southwest grounds. the conservatory itself was for show and enjoyment. a luxury for the presidential household. the rest of the buildings were purely functional greenhouses. simple utilitarian spaces designed to grow as many plants
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as possible. by the turn of the 20th century, these greenhouses were at their peak production. kicking out thousands possibly tens of thousands with bulbs, flowers, ferns, and shrubs per year for planting outdoors on the ground or use inside the white house. nine separate buildings shown in the strong from left to right. we have the gardeners office, a chameleon house, a great brewery, a foreign, house a geranium house, a second smaller rose house. you see where the parties are here. the roses have been king flowers at the white house. finally, a general propagating house, and an orchid house. and then rather suddenly in 1902, everything changed. all of the greenhouses as well as the conservatory which is what we see here were unceremoniously torn down. the reason? to make room for the expansion of the white house under theodore roosevelt. specifically the new west wing
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seen in the foreground with the very last remnants of the greenhouses behind. that was basically that. there's never been another greenhouse at the white house since. so, understandably, below us of their indoor flower garden did not thrill the president or his family. first lady ethan roosevelt came up with a wonderful solution of the problem. since the south grounds have been closed to the public in 1893, it was again possible to move the presidential flower gardens back outdoors. this is precisely what she did in 1902 and 1903. specifically the first lady created to colonial style gardens along the immediate south face of the mansion. one of short distance west of the south, and the other in the same position on the east side. they were intricate and heavily embellished and modeled after the geometrically patterned gardens arranged outside the largest states such as mount vernon in the 1700s. box with hedges and a web of
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gravel to find the outlines of mrs. roosevelt's gardens. both bloomed with old-fashioned flowers such as snap dragons, pinks, goldenrods, columbine's, flocks, bill foil, gas, hollyhock, and peonies. mrs. roosevelt was pleased with the result. so please she told us it for her official portrait as first lady in the west colonial garden. some of her successors were not nearly so impressed with her handiwork. so, that's how mrs. roosevelt's colonial gardens began to change over the course of the 20th century. her west garden shown at the left eventually became the internationally famous rose garden that we all know and love today. for east plural garden, shown at the rate is now the jacqueline kennedy garden which is less well-known in the rose garden but not as beautiful. my colleagues later today will be telling you all about how this transformation took place. it's a fascinating story,
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especially for garden lovers such as ourselves. and with that, ladies and gentlemen i'm going to and. there you have it, an abbreviated history of the white house grounds from 1790 to 1903 in, i think, just about a half an hour. thank you for your time, and again it's been my great pleasure. [applause] >> we can do a short q&as since we made up a bit of time. it will be fast. there is microphones on the other side of the room. if you the question, feel free to raise your hand. don't all do that once. there we go. >> i wanted to ask about the use of the greenhouses for cutting gardens, and the u.s.
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inside the house. was it all sourced from there for the arrangements inside the home at that time? >> at the time, absolutely. who is doing the arranging at that time? >> it depends. the white house gardeners at various times when i've done it, the white house gardener at the time for instance under mary todd lincoln presented her with a bouquet every single day. they had that kind of relationship. it varied from administration to administration. >> i notice one of the houses was the orchid house. so can you talk about some of the varieties that might have been at that? >> to be honest with you, is everything that was available at the time. it was built during the grant ministration, and it was specifically under first lady grants hospices. she indoctrinated what was known at the time as an orchid trees in the united states because orchids or brand-new. it was as far as varieties go,
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i can't answer you specifically right off the top of my head, but they literally would've been everything available to them because they were trying to show up as much as possible, frankly. >> i thank you. >> yes, sir? >> was there any geopolitical influence on the white house any gifts of flowers and trees and international bittered visitors for things given to international editors from the garden? >> as a really good question. the good example is the jackson magnolia which i was talking about is, i suppose, summit also the tree is on tree life support. there is no center of the tree that's been held up by a poll. this is the grand effort that the white house and the park service is going to do to keep this tree up. because if it's a special
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historical significance, there are saplings that are being grown, so treat when it finally does have to go and it will it's a living thing. they are going to replace the tree with a genetically identical tree grown from it. this means there's anywhere between eight and 12 of the saplings being grown at any given time. and some get bigger, and once it gets to a certain size, those are for instance sometimes you know they're given to dignitaries and other guests. >> -- >> most recently a tree was brought from france, whether french president. and it was a year to go at this point, he and president trump planted it on the south grounds, and it was a tree from the bella would field in france.
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that's where the u.s. marines gain their name devil dogs. and the tree, shortly thereafter disappeared from the grounds, and the reason being it needed to go through quarantine, just like anything else so it's a funny story, it was planted and none of the actual roots of the tree hit the ground so it's currently to the best of my knowledge still in quarantine and as soon as it gets cleared it will be coming back. i'm sure. >> yes for the vegetable garden that michelle obama has been expanding, do you have heirloom varieties? >> at the best of my knowledge is being the same it's the same size and it has the same standards. i don't believe it's all organic i'm not sure that something that is definitely the discretion of the first lady.
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and i know that during the obama administration, there was a strong focus on growing some thomas jefferson favored vegetables. >> one more question. >> yes sir? >> -- . >> that's a good question, so how was the gardens financed the first hundred years. a lot of this came out of the presidents own pocket. and some of it did come from congressional appropriations. that's a good example i didn't have time to necessarily go into some of these details, but the conservatory and some of the greenhouses burned down not once but twice. and rather than appropriate money for a new super structure, they kept building out of wood
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and it gets kind of moist in the greenhouses gets wet, and the moisture and worked over the work but congress controls the purse strings for things like that. >> okay that's it thank you very much. >> thank you.
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next on american history tv, a look at the history of the white house easter egg roll, from the first one in 1878 under president rutherford b. hayes, all the way to the trump white house. >> jonathan pliska, you have worked with the white house historical association to read a young readers book about the wh


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