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Book cover: Future Dictionary of America

The Garden for Disappointed Politicians {format} {format} 3:27 Sarah Vowell

A place for politcal losers.

Broadcast: Sep 30 2004 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Politics, Environment, Garden

Commentary: Gardens for political losers

September 30, 2004 from Day to Day

NOAH ADAMS, host: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Noah Adams.

One of this country's Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, is said to have spent his final years tinkering in his garden, and he wrote that a garden is a useful refuge for the disappointed politician. With that quotation in mind, writer Sarah Vowell imagines a place where defeated candidates can go to work the soil and heal their souls.


The Garden for Disappointed Politicians was established as a public trust in public service. Before the garden was founded, thwarted candidates for national office, dashed presidents, would-be congressmen who never were filled the void of democratic rejection mostly pursuing unhelpful, unproductive pastimes.

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VOWELL: These men and women, unable to get cracking on their platforms' plans, contracts, visions and/or vision themes, spent the months and years after losing stewing, hogging the tee times normally available to hardworking American golfers, tramping around the lecture circuit for obscene fees and engaging in what might be colloquially referred to as yakking, especially after the advent of 24-hour cable television news.

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VOWELL: The Garden for Disappointed Politicians offers political losers the opportunity to do something useful and contemplative, to quietly dirty their fingernails growing organic produce and happy things like sunflowers.

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VOWELL: The garden is situated outside the Beltway--way outside--in Portland, Oregon, where thankfully nothing ever happens except that bicycles are ridden, used books are browsed and umbrellas are opened, though jauntily so.

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VOWELL: Once a month, each gardener lovingly assembles a box of seasonal produce garnished with a bow-tie bouquet and ships it to his or her frazzled, former opponent who, buried in the demands and worries of governance, is malnourished and has come to measure time not in the four seasons enjoyed by their fellow earthlings, but as one of two things: in session or recess.

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VOWELL: The boxes usually contain notes of neighborly encouragement, such as, `Good luck with the National Parks appropriations,' or, `It's raining again, which is good for the corn.'

While studies indicate that approximately half the gardeners return to campaign for public office again, they do so with a peaceful sense of accomplishment, having fed themselves and their fellow citizens. Incidentally, they have also acquired a newfound understanding of the composting process and thus its metaphorical applications on Capitol Hill.

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ADAMS: The Garden for the Disappointed Politicians came to us from Sarah Vowell. It's a selection from The Future Dictionary of America, edited by Dave Eggers.