First Lady Donates Historic Magnolia Seedling to People's Garden
WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2009 (ENS) - First Lady Michelle Obama carried an historic magnolia tree seedling from the White House to the Department of Agriculture Headquarters building on Thursday to be planted in the first of many community gardens that will be grown at USDA facilities worldwide.

The seedling comes from a tree on the South Lawn of the White House planted by President Andrew Jackson that is one of the earliest remaining trees on the grounds to have been planted by a U.S. president.

The southern magnolias that stand on either side of the South portico were planted by President Jackson in honor of his wife, Rachel, who died before they were to have moved into the White House together in March 1829. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, prior to Jackson's inauguration.

"I hope that this seedling brings years of joy and beauty to the garden that will be planted here, in the same way it has brought beauty to the White House for 180 years," said First Lady Obama as she delivered the magnolia seedling, Magnolia grandiflora, to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

One of the two Jackson magnolia trees that stand on either side of the White House South portico (Photo by Steve Woody)

Secretary Vilsack broke pavement on the inaugural USDA The People's Garden during a ceremony February 12, commemorating the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Lincoln founded the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and referred to it as "The People's Department" in his last annual message to Congress.

The USDA Headquarters People's Garden will eliminate 1,250 square feet of unnecessary paved surface and return the landscape to grass. The changes signal a removal of impervious surfaces and improvement in water management that is needed throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, with a length of 200 miles and 11,684 miles of tidal shoreline, more than the entire U.S. West Coast. The Chesapeake Bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals.

About 100,000 streams and rivers thread through the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which is home to almost 17 million people in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and the District of Columbia.

"It is essential for the federal government to lead the way in enhancing and conserving our land and water resources," said Vilsack. "President Obama has expressed his commitment to responsible stewardship of our land, water and other natural resources, and one way of restoring the land to its natural condition is what we are doing here today - breaking pavement for The People's Garden."

The new garden will add 612 square feet of planted space to an existing garden traditionally planted with ornamentals. As a component of the garden, pollinator-friendly plantings will provide habitat for bees and butterflies and can serve as an educational opportunity to help people understand the vital role pollinators play in agriculture. The new garden adjacent to the site of the USDA Farmer's Market.

As part of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, Secretary Vilsack announced the goal of creating a community garden at each USDA facility worldwide. The community gardens will spring up on field office plots and in Embassy window boxes.

The gardens will be designed to promote "going green" concepts, said Vilsack, including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency, native plantings and sound conservation practices.

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