SUBMITTED BY THE BOCA GRANDE GARDEN CLUB – On Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. in the Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium, the Boca Grande Garden Club will welcome this season’s first guest, internationally renowned author and highly acclaimed speaker Andrea Wulf. She will be talking about her book, “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation.” She has lectured around the world – from the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Society in London to Monticello, to the N.Y. Public Library to the oldest cultural institution in the south, the Charleston Library Society. In these appearances she has proven that she can not only write beautifully, with eloquence, passion, sharp wit and considerable historical and scientific detail that make real people and events come alive, but she can also deliver a spellbinding talk with archival images, fascinating anecdotes and a sense of humor.
Andrea combines fascinating facts with wit as she keeps audiences engaged and inspired through impeccable scholarship, tremendous organizational ability, boundless energy and her warm personality. By all accounts she is a dynamic speaker, not just letting her hands dance or knead the air as she talks, but shooting them into the air, sometimes revealing a modest tattoo of the letter “L” on the inside of her wrist—“for [her] daughter, Leanne,” she explains. Speaking impeccable English with a slight German accent, she delivers history lessons disguised in humor and anecdotes spontaneously with deep passion and excitement.
In her talk on Founding Gardeners, Andrea will captivate, entertain and inform us as she takes a look at the lives of a few of our founding fathers, including Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, sharing how their attitudes toward plants, gardens, nature and agriculture shaped the American nation. While the four presidents regarded themselves foremost as farmers and plantsmen, they also believed that gardening and botany were elemental passions, as deeply ingrained in their characters as their belief in liberty for the nation they were creating. Andrea will show us how plants, politics and personalities intertwined as never before. Jefferson once said that the introduction of new useful vegetables is the greatest service one can do for one’s country. She thinks he would be proud of the recent focus on locally grown vegetables and the farm-to- table movement.
Andrea believes that nature, botany and horticulture influence art, science, politics and human culture, and therefore the development of every nation, especially the United States. The need to be self-sufficient extended to our founders’ methods of horticulture as they sought to make themselves independent of England and Europe, and focused not only on using native plants and trees in their gardens and farms, but also on collecting and exchanging seeds among themselves and with other countries around the world. In her book, she demonstrates her meticulous research with primary documents to show just how important gardens, plants and horticulture were to each of the main characters. She describes how they introduced many new species to America, with Jefferson claiming that one of his great contributions to the country was the introduction of upland rice. She depicts Madison as the forgotten father of the environmental movement in the U.S., as he suggested that nature is fragile and that we must return to nature what we take from nature, especially after the initial clear-cutting of many of Virginia’s virgin forests. Written within the context of the suspense of war and political debate, Andrea’s book gives us a view of the private lives of the first four presidents as passionate botanists, whose farms became laboratories for their vision of an agrarian republic in the New World.
In an interview seeking information on her own history, Andrea said she was born in India in 1972 when her German parents were working for an aid group, and they moved to Hamburg when she was five, where they lived in apartments with no gardens in sight. During her teenage years, her father took her on a seven-week road trip to the west coast of America, where the land was vast, the highways endless and long, giving her no hint of America as a gardening nation. When she moved to London in the mid-1990s as a single mother, opting to study design history at the Royal College of Art, she witnessed for the first time all of her apartment neighbors gardening their little plats of land. She was initially interested in the interiors of homes and architectural history, but watching her neighbors led her to draw a connection between the inside and the outside of a home. She started to learn about the plants, discovering that many of their names were derived from the names of people who found or identified them, and to see a relationship between humans and nature, which led her to want to discover the stories of these historical plantsmen. She says she had been told in school that she was “useless at science,” probably because that was an expectation of girls, but now that she has a daughter who is an engineer and is very scientific, she wishes she had had more exposure to science when younger. Once she began to look at gardens as a “prism on literature, science, and politics,” she had to learn about botany and horticulture, and botanists and horticulturalists. Her mission has been to make real people come alive, combining a sure knowledge of garden history and 18th century politics with a keen eye for domestic detail and evocative description.
Andrea writes book reviews and articles for The Wall Street Journal, The N.Y. Times, The L.A. Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Garden and Kew Magazine. She is a regular contributor on BBC radio and television and has appeared on several shows on NPR. She has won numerous book prizes, including the Costa Biography Award, the L.A. Times Book Award, The Inaugural James Wright Award for Nature Writing and the Royal Geographical Society Ness Award for “popularizing the histories of geography and scientific botanical exploration.” She was a finalist for many others such as the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature, The Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction and The Kirkus Prize.
She added to her awards this past September by becoming the 29th winner, and the second female sole-winner, of the Royal Society Science Book Prize for her latest book, “The Invention of Nature.” (Andrea will be back in Boca Grande later in the season to discuss this book at the Boca Grande Community Center. Can you believe that she will make two appearances in Boca Grande on her 35-city tour of the U.S.?)
“Founding Gardeners” will be sold at the tea in the Woman’s Club Room following her presentation, for a price of $35, cash or check only. Blue Pagoda will also be selling orchids at the tea, and credit cards may be accepted for orchid purchases.
This presentation is free to members and available to guests on a space-available basis for a fee of $35, payable by cash or check at the door. If you are interested in joining the Garden Club, please contact Pam McMillin at firstname.lastname@example.org.