March 23, 2012 Author to Discuss Book on Gardens

“Gardens for a Beautiful America” Presents Photos of Frances Benjamin Johnston

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Center for the Book (202) 707-5221

At the beginning of the 20th century, Americans looked out their windows and saw a landscape that had radically changed since their countryside childhoods. Since the close of the Civil War, the nation had become a land of industrial cities. Smokestacks, blackened skies, billboards and honky-tonk signs lined busy roads, and railroads ripped through golden cornfields. City streets and backyards were treeless and barren.

Shocked into action, wealthy women rallied the Garden Club of America in 1913 to garden the 48 states back to moral and environmental health through design and preservation. To spread the word, they commissioned photographs to show all gardeners, rich and poor, what a garden should be. For this progressive challenge, they turned to Frances Benjamin Johnston, celebrity photographer of country estates.

In “Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935,” Sam Watters presents for the first time 250 color photographs of urban and suburban gardens taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston and preserved by the Library of Congress for more than 70 years. Prepared as glass slides for Johnston's illustrated lectures, these photographs still resonate with her crusading message: garden the nation back to America the beautiful – one elm, one rose, one fountain and one shady terrace at a time.

Watters will discuss and sign his book during a Books & Beyond event on Friday, April 13, at noon, in the West Dining Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The program is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. The sponsors are the Center for the Book; the Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering; and the Prints and Photographs Division, where Watters did much of his research on Johnston’s work and which houses the Johnston collection.

Sam Watters writes and lectures on American houses and gardens. Educated at Yale University, the University of Marseilles and the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, Watters is the author of books and numerous articles on subjects ranging from the gardens of the White House to cactus theft in the Mojave Desert. He is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Since its creation by Congress in 1977 to “stimulate public interest in books and reading,” the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress ( has become a major national force for reading and literacy promotion. A public-private partnership, it sponsors educational programs that reach readers of all ages, nationally and internationally. The center provides leadership for affiliated state centers for the book (including the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and nonprofit reading-promotion partners and plays a key role in the Library’s annual National Book Festival. It also oversees the Library’s website and administers the Library’s Young Readers Center.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 151.8 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


PR 12-059
ISSN 0731-3527