Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

Visiting gardens is a favorite pastime of mine, a way for me to get to know cities and people of places I visit. I love talking with the gardeners or nosing along overgrown paths. It doesn’t matter where my rambles take me or why I’m there; whenever I can, I take time to stop and smell the flowers.  These gardens, great and small, have boasted towering topiaries, flowing rivers of bloom, whimsical sculptures and miniature delights tucked into rocky nooks.

A few resonated so deeply within me that they help guide my philanthropic self, like the Edible Schoolyards of New Orleans or the urban community gardens pocketed about the Big Apple by the New York Restoration Project.

And then there is the one that indelibly etched itself upon on my mind and soul: the White House kitchen garden. Its low-sided raised beds have hosted thousands of school children over the years as they visit for planting, harvesting and cooking lessons. Bees that work the flowers from the nearby hive are an integral part of the lesson plans given to help connect the kids to their food and our earth.

That humble, working garden feeds both dignitaries and those in need by producing 2,000 pounds of produce each year from 2,800 square feet; a third of the produce is donated to soup kitchens. In the upcoming transition, the garden appears to be remaining, thanks to a $2.5 Million gift from the W. Atlee Burpee Company and the Burpee Foundation to the National Park Foundation in October 2016. The National Park Service cares for the grounds around the White House, including the kitchen garden.

Beyond serving as a living classroom the White House kitchen garden has served as inspiration to home gardeners across the US; many of us rejoiced when it was installed and the historians among us appreciated the nod to former Presidents and First Ladies cultivating those grounds for food.

Gardens – and gardeners – ebb and flow in their interests and it wouldn’t surprise me if the incoming administration were less interested in the garden patch. After all, gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, given that gardeners are often sweating, grimed with dirt, and wearing mismatched socks. But perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama could leave a pair of her Gucci gloves for soon-to-be First Lady Melania Trump to pick up should she head out to see what the buzz is about on the South Lawn.

I hope she does. There, past the surprisingly small Rose Garden, the kitchen garden provides a seating area in its heart, where visitors find a little peace and quiet. It’s always entertaining to watch bees work the flowers, and scents from herbs wash across you as the breeze shifts.

To its creator, the garden bids farewell. It will endure, as gardens do when changing hands. For those of us it inspired to get planting in our own communities, our work is not yet done. According to the American Community Gardening Association (communitygarden.org/mission) “community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.”

Get active in your community through gardening programs, to keep the legacy of the White House garden alive.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.