Kudos to the Eat the View project that’s petitioning the Obamas to grow a Victory Garden at the White House.  Led by Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International and including Michael Pollan and the good folks at Gardeners Supply Company, Eat the View has gotten gobs of publicity for the cause, and Obama himself has said that he’s read about the project (via Pollan’s NYT piece).  Our prez-elect has also declared his intention to “green the White House.”  Exciting stuff!

So let’s take a look at the 17+ acres surrounding the White House, shall we?  Here’s a blurb from the White House website:

On tours at the White House, one can see flowers such as tulips, hyacinths and chrysanthemums in the East Garden.  Plants that can be seen in the Rose Garden include magnolia trees, Katherine crab apple trees and a variety of roses.

And photos show – no surprise – thousands of bedding plants like spring bulbs and annuals.  Yeah, institutional gardening from the ’50s.  And asked what changes the Bushes have made to the White House grounds, the grounds superintendent says they’ve added seven commemorative trees.  (Any wonder that didn’t make the Evening News?) The website further reveals that there’s no on-site composting, and the 8-hour job of mowing the lawn is performed twice a week.

Now just imagine what that website COULD say, as soon as a year from now, about the grounds and gardens:   

  • The tons of herbicide and petroleum-based fertilizer previously dumped on the turfgrass have been replaced with a yearly application of compost and two applications of compost tea.  This switch to organic lawn care has increased the lawn’s drought-tolerance and saved thousands of gallons of water previously used to keep it green all summer. 
  • The use of pesticides in the White House gardens has been examined and drastically reduced.  Plants that required frequent spraying have been replaced with more sustainable substitutes. (Why not a Rose Garden filled with no-spray varieties?)
  • Dozens of native plants have been added to the White House gardens, which now include a Butterfly Garden and an educational Habitat Garden, all enjoyed by the Obama family and local school groups.  Birdhouses adorn many trees on the property.
  • All yard and kitchen wastes are composted on site.
  • Steps have been taken to stop runoff of rainwater into the city’s already overwhelmed stormwater management system that rushes pollutants to the highly degraded Chesapeake Bay. 
  • The National Park Service is making it all run smoothly and partners with local groups to spread these practices across the District of Columbia.
  • And members of the Obama family are often seen tending their favorite White House garden, the newly installed vegetable garden.  Produce from this “Victory Garden” is used in the White House kitchen, and the garden is similar to what millions of American families could be doing in their suburban and even urban plots.

Is this a total fantasy?  I THINK NOT.  It’s all doable, popular, and noncontroversial.  Unlike the greening of the building itself, with its energy efficiency ratings and endless tech-talk, these outdoor greening projects are fun, photogenic, and filled with human interest.  And after seeing Obama’s “green team” choices, who can doubt they’re ready to shake things up?