Shut Up and Dig

Obamas: Have We Taught You Nothing?

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So I open my paper this morning and what do I see?  This sad photo of the delightful Obama family attempting to break up the White House lawn with rakes.

Rakes?  Really?

Didn't anyone have a shovel or a spading fork?  Hadn't anyone told them about the 'lasagna gardening' approach to smothering the grass with layers of cardboard or newspaper, then piling it high with manure and compost?

I mean, I know it's a largely symbolic move, but that's just it.  This is a symbol of some damn hard work.  Fruitless, pointless, discouraging labor.

Well, I hope they had fun doing it, and I hope somebody came along a few minutes later with some real tools and finished the job.

Posted by on March 27, 2009 at 6:39 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
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30 responses to “Obamas: Have We Taught You Nothing?”

  1. shira says:

    This had to be just a photo op. There is no way that the first lady will be ripping up turf (definitely one of the hardest gardening jobs there is).

  2. Tara Dillard says:

    Scary metaphor. White house using the wrong tools.

    New York Times article about Felder Rushing’s landscape. Promoting slow gardening. Hmm. He advocates love of perennials. They require more maintenance than flowering shrubs. Most have significant ‘down time’, being herbaceous, than flowering shrubs. Many perennials are not as long-lived as flowering shrubs. Most perennials use less space when mature & are more expensive than flowering shrubs/sq.ft of gardening.

    Circa 1970’s, NY Times was full of the ice age cometh. Now, global warming.

    Whatever. I still like reading it.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. David in VT says:

    Can’t we just be happy that this is happening? What’s with the attitude?

  4. Hi David in VT,

    Right plant, right place …right tool, too, no?

    There’s not that much attitude going on here. Just wonder and disappointment. As Amy says, “I know it’s a largely symbolic move, but that’s just it.” Symbols are stories are calls to action, and if the symbol fails, the story becomes a dog and pony show, and the call to action falls apart. …Will we go on gardening regardless of how the Obamas do it? Sure we will. But, will they — and countless others new to gardening — stick with it if they feel it is “fruitless, pointless, discouraging labor”?

    Somebody give them Susan’s number. They clearly need a Garden Coach.

  5. Michelle D. says:

    In another photograph I saw some shovels in the background along with some adults and the kitchen staff.

    I’m going to ‘assume’ that the hard back breaking work of detaching the sod from the soil was done prior to the kids and Mr. Obama were handed their rakes for the easy task of raking up the liberated sod clumps.

    I got a kick out of her gardening attire though. Doesn’t she own a pair of jeans and a pair of hiking boots or sneakers ?
    I think it would have made a more realistic statement to the general public if she “appeared” like she was into the gardening project rather then merely dressing up for the photo op.

    I just hope she doesn’t show up next at Alice Water’s kitchen cooking eggs in a cast iron ladle over an interior wood burning stove proclaiming the virtues of organic gardening.
    That type of action does nothing but create an air of elitism and that’s that last thing that you want fresh healthy food to say.

    I applaud the message, but how the message is delivered in this media savvy world has to be well thought out or the pundits will eat it up and spit it out saying it tasted unsavory.

  6. trey says:

    I love Amy’s last sentence, “…I hope somebody came along a few minutes later with some real tools and finished the job.”

    Isn’t that the way it usually is when celebrities, including the first family jump on bandwagons, this one being gardening? Someone else has to come along and finish the job. It’s always someone else, out of the limelight that gets the real work done.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    On NPR they were reporting on all the new veggie landscaping companies springing up, and one was teaching their clients to double-dig. Yuck. If people think they have to double-dig to have a veggie plot, many will back out of the idea pretty fast.

  8. Patrick says:

    I work a few blocks away, so I walked over a few hours later to find a crew getting the real work done. There was one guy working a roto-tiller, 4 or 5 standing around watching, and a small tractor bringing loads of compost or manure from a nearby pile.

  9. gardenmentor says:

    I was quite taken by gardening with a rake in a skirt. Sure, my grandmother gardened on her farm in a dress and heels, but really? Is this the message for today’s gardener? What in the world will my clients think when I show up with every hair out of place, covered in dirt, and hand them a shovel?

  10. tai haku says:

    This is an opportunity missed – they should totally have got one of those power turf removers or some sort of awesome boneshaking old rotavator thus demonstrating that not only can veg gardening be fun, it can involve much cooler tools than lawn maintenance.

  11. I’m with you Michelle…I wish I looked that good working in the garden! Instead of calling a garden coach (which I am) to help, I think they need a garden photoshoot stylists (which I am) Hey, first family press peeps, call my peeps next time you want to take some action shots in the garden!

  12. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Breaking ground for a new garden with a rake? It’s like bonsai used as an indoor plant prop in a movie or Donna Reed vacuming while wearing high heels, pearls and make up. If they wanted to be serious about it, michelle should have been swinging a mattox or a sod busting spade. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a cerimonial gold colored rake.

  13. beth says:

    I, too, am a little disappointed with the attitude here. I’m thrilled about the white house garden and I think it’s kind of charming that they don’t know everything (YET), but still are excited and want to get going. When I first started veggie gardening, I didn’t know what I was doing either. I remember trying to break up some ground, finding bulbs and throwing them out because I didn’t know what they were. They are approaching this as many many people new to this would, and I applaud them.

  14. Nina says:

    A perennial is simply a plant that lives for more than two years. Ergo, flowering shrubs ARE perennials.

  15. Sure, it’s symbolic, but they have even inspired Congress to get involved. I have a “scoop” about Congress and the vegetable garden on my blog http://daffodilplanter.blogspot.com/2009/03/congressional-support-for-white-house.html

  16. LauraBee says:

    In the color photo it’s a bit easier to see that the sod is already loosened. Michele & the girls are simply raking it up. Sure it’s symbolic, but it beats sticking with a lawn simply because that’s how it’s always been. Good for them !

  17. Yes-lose the attitude. Sometimes, I feel like even though this blog is supposed to be “shaking things up,” everyone sounds just as elitist as the people they are making fun of. It is just as elitist to make fun of people for trying and not getting it as it is to make fun of people that are over the top. It is as elitist to say that you can only garden on the cheap as it is to say you can only garden if you have lots of $$. To each– his or her own. Maybe I save money by growing lettuce from seed so that I can buy some ridiculously extravagant lemon tree. That’s my problem.

    Stop being snotty about being snotty-that makes you snotty, too!

  18. Rosella says:

    Well, I don’t mean to be snotty or elitist or attitudinous, but I suspected (thanks, Patrick!) that the White House grounds crew would show up and do the hard work after the photo op participants went home.

    Seems to me that this whole thing is a delightful and charming symbol, a little akin to Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid in the Petit Trianon. I’m sure she enjoyed milking a pretty cow once in a while, but I bet she never mucked out the stable. It’s nice, it gets lots of attention from the press and public, and it has added to the already-burgeoning interest in veggie gardens. But, you know, I wonder how often the Secret Service will let the little girls and Michelle work out there in the garden, in full view of the street.

  19. b says:

    oh, rosella beat me to the marie antoinette at trianon comparison!

    c’est la vie. this is a marketing exercise as much as a garden. at least you’re offering some constructive criticism instead of calling for the guillotine.

  20. SJ says:

    I agree with Katie, this is almost going too far, symbolic or not, liking Michelle’s outfit or not this is at least a start to see the first family having a garden.

    I happen to work for some of these elitist upper middle class and higher income families – some of them have gardens that they expend very little labor on (that’s what they pay me for) but at least they have a garden instead of lawn – I think it’s just insulting to make fun of someone just because they’re not as into it as you are. It’s just not nice.

    And in any case, if you’re going to poke fun a Michelle’s unrealistic choice of outfit I could think of certain blonde braided writer that likes to garden in skimpy outfits and sandals and calls herself a pro. At least Michelle had the good sense to cover up.

  21. Oh my goodness—this was a good read in the post and comments. You/we gardeners are a funny bunch. All of us know the time of toiling in the garden but you guys made it so entertaining. I don’t think Michelle is a gardener but she is smart enough to find someone who can.

  22. Recently, I was waiting in a doctor’s where I picked up the latest issue of Vogue. A stunning Michelle Obama was on the cover. No doubt, our first lady will be dubbed as our millennium’s very own JACKIE in style, culture and grace. I believe she will be thought of as MICHELLE, someone others will emulate, leaving JACKIE as a methology of our youth.

    In the photo shoot, respective stylists and designers were all given a byline for her hair, makeup, jewerely, outfit, shoes, etc. Famed Annie Liebovitz shot the photos. Mrs. Obama, purred like a sex kitten across the couch in a perfect pose. Her legs were crossed, her back arch, everything in place. Stunning!

    The Vogue photo shoot wasn’t an after thought. It was well thought out, orchestrated event. So the real question is, why did her advisors fall short in understanding a staged garden photo op was any different? Is it just that gardening is valued less?

    Of course we applaud the White House’s efforts for the Victory Garden. No one expects the Obamas to actually be tilling and weeding – they have work to do and should be free to choose how they spend their leisure time. But like any image projection, just take the time to make it real, even if it is only for show.

  23. Jay says:

    “I mean, I know it’s a largely symbolic move, but that’s just it. This is a symbol of some damn hard work. Fruitless, pointless, discouraging labor.”

    Welcome to cynic island. Population: us

    It all makes sense once you understand this is a publicity gimmick and nothing more.

  24. Jay says:

    Irony:

    I am actually in the garden RIGHT now, barefoot and in shorts :)

    Well, not RIGHT now, but earlier, and again in about 15 more minutes heh. Taking a nice garden rant break… but the door is open and the breeze is blowing inside the house.

    What a great day to be in the garden!

  25. Jay says:

    Rosella, you are now officially invited to “Cynic island” along with me and Amy. Don’t worry; we have a great garden set up :)

  26. Jay says:

    Some of us are just not into empty platitudes. We want authenticity.

  27. Rosella says:

    Thanks! Is there wine at 5 o’clock?

  28. MaryContrary says:

    I am thrilled that there is going to be a vegetable garden at the White House. And I spent 2 hours yesterday gardening in my pajamas (got distracted on the way out for the newspaper), so quit dissin’ Michelle’s wardrobe. That being said, when I saw the picture I couldn’t help but say to myself “shovels? They need a sod remover and a rototiller.” But, whatever. That’s what we formal and informal garden coaches are for.

  29. KJ says:

    You can see the Obama’s in action here:
    http://www.foxnews.com/video2/video08.html?maven_referralObject=4083005&maven_referralPlaylistId=&sRevUrl=http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,29

    Michelle uses a shovel in that clip, and they show the raking was just to gather some grass clippings.

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