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The politics of gardening, from your Alaska backyard to the White House

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: December 29, 2017
  • Published December 28, 2017

I try to keep my political views out of this column. After all, gardening is not about politics. However, I allow myself one exception, and that is the last column of the year. Of course there are politics and there are Politics.

Take rototilling. When it was first suggested that pulverizing garden soil was a bad practice, plenty of partisan gardeners rose up on their machines and resisted accepting the idea. No-tillers went nuts! Today, hardly anyone bats an eyelash over no-till, and Alaskans who still practice the art do so as the extreme minority.

How about organic gardening, perhaps a better example? It may still be debated in some very tiny circles, but even science-denier Scott Pruitt knows non-organic chemicals are not good for humans or the environment.

The long-time Alaskan may also remember using high nitrogen, higher phosphorus fertilizer to green up lawns. Remember the fight when that idea was challenged, and it was shown the practice was a big waste of product, time and money?

Sometimes, even what to grow becomes political. When George Bush senior declared he never ate broccoli because he hated the taste, he gave kids an excuse to avoid vegetables and caused a hiccup in the broccoli industry. Some Republicans jumped on the bandwagon and wouldn't even plant it.

This year, it is the antics of our president that had me fuming while working in the yard. What Alaska gardener, by way of example, doesn't wince every time there is an early morning tweet from you-know-who directed toward North Korea? Our Alaska cabbage patches are Kim Jong Un's nearest U.S. bull's-eye. Can we at least all agree to stop the tweeting about "Rocket Man"?

Hey, and while I am at it, enough with the pictures of a grinning man-boy sitting in front of a McDonald's burger and fries. What kind of an example does this make? I don't count ketchup as a vegetable and that special sauce doesn't count either. In fact, the wafer-thin slivers of lettuce and tomato surely wouldn't count as even a portion of the government's suggested daily intake of vegetables. What kind of example is his diet to the young gardeners of the world? And buying all your food when you could be growing a lot of it?

Michelle Obama tore up some of the White House's lawn and installed a vegetable garden so her family and others could have fresh (and organic) vegetables. It was such a great idea. What happened to it when the Trumps moved into the House?

Well, there were reports that Melania kept the garden. There were pictures of Melania in "sneakers," too, but none of the Donald helping out, so I am going to take this all as "fake news." Hey, if that nasty Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who, incidentally, looks unhealthy and like she could eat a few more vegetables herself) can do it, so can I!

First Lady Melania Trump works in the White House kitchen garden with students September 22, 2017. — Reuters

Anyhow, I am not giving the White House garden much hope. The Trumps kept it last spring, but the current resident of the White House is surely not a gardener. Not only does he apparently not eat anything that grows in soil, the closest he ever seems to comes to soil is when he reaches into the cups on his golf greens to retrieve his golf balls. Besides, anyone who plays as much golf as Trump does doesn't have time to be a gardener.

No, my assumption is that sometime shortly after the ground thaws this spring in Washington, President Trump will remember that it was Michelle Obama who put that garden in and will have the White House gardeners rototill it under (rototilled, mind you!) and then seeded with grass seed (and not the kind Jeff Sessions is interested in prosecuting).

And, just to make sure there is not a single trace of the garden left to remind Americans that we once had an administration that supported gardening, I am guessing the area will be bombarded with an inordinate amount of high nitrogen, non-organic fertilizer destined to become the same sickly, chemical green color as the rest of the White House lawn. …

OK, I feel a bit better. At least until the next Rocket Man tweet. Please stop those and I will stop these.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Christmas tree recycling: It'll be available through Jan. 15 at all Carrs stores in Anchorage, Eagle River and Palmer. Live trees only. No wreaths, please. Trees are made into chips and used on trails and gardens. Thank you to ALPAR businesses, the Muni of Anchorage Solid Waste Services and our TV and radio stations for supporting this important effort.

Alaska Botanical Garden: It's not too late to give a tax deductible gift or to get a family or individual membership in The Garden. In fact, right now is the perfect time. (

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