Hillary And Chelsea Clinton Talk Quarantining and Gardening — From A Safe Distance

In mid-March, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton were gearing up to release their new children’s book, Grandma's Gardens (Philomel Books). Illustrated by Carme Lemniscates, the book depicts the hours Chelsea spent in various gardens with her grandmother, Dorothy Rodham. It's a tradition that has been passed down to Chelsea's children with Marc Mezvinsky, who help their grandmother, Hillary, plant her garden each spring.

It's also the kind of family gathering that's now indefinitely on hold. Alongside Coachella and the Met Gala, visiting grandparents has been canceled for the spring, as people around the world stay home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

With three children underfoot in Manhattan, Chelsea spoke with Hillary, in Westchester, on a conference call peppered with interruptions from tiny, high voices. Romper was on the line too as Chelsea and Hillary discussed the book (out March 31), being isolated in their homes, and the role of nature in communities and healing.

Philomel Books

Romper: How is your family handling the upheaval?

Chelsea Clinton: The upside of being in our homes is we can get back to basics a little — my kids get bored of play dough after about 10 minutes. We have spent an inordinate amount of time seeing what we can do with a single sheet of paper.

Our daughter, who is 5 and a half, is using this opportunity to think about the things that she wants to do when she does get to go outside again and be with her grandparents. So she's been saving peach pits and apple seeds that she wants to later grow in the garden that she now looks forward to planting with her grandmother every spring. I don't quite have the heart to tell her we probably won't be trying to grow peach trees or apple trees.

Hillary Clinton: We are going to plant them, and see what happens. I told her we will plant whatever she wants to plant as well as actual seedlings, just so she can learn more about what happens in a garden.

Chelsea and Hillary Clinton. Photo credit: Bob Krasner

Romper: Your mother, Dorothy Rodham — who has a really big role in the book — was also a gardener.

Hillary Clinton: When I was a little girl, when we moved into our house from the city of Chicago, the first thing she did was to plant a garden and to grow roses on trellises that went up the side of our garage. Many years later, when she moved into the house Bill and I owned in Washington to live with us, she took over the garden in the back of that house. And when we began to have my grandchildren learn about gardens, and come up and help for the last three years to plant our garden in the spring, we thought about how much my mother would have loved being part of that experience.

The book seemed like a way, not only of remembering her, but of sharing with a broader audience the joys of gardens. Even if you don't have a lot of space to garden — even if it’s a windowsill, a balcony outside, or a front porch — do it with little children, your own and your grandchildren, and have some of those same delights that Chelsea and I had with my mother.

[Romper's child screeches about ice cream.]

Romper: Sorry. Keep going. This is totally under control.

Hillary Clinton: I know. Listen, we totally get it. You take whatever time you need.

What we're finding during this time of social distancing is how much we need each other, how much we really depend on each other, and how important it is that we recognize that.

Chelsea Clinton: With gardening, our children really liked the fact that they're doing something with their grandmother now that I did with my mom and my grandmother. Oh. My daughter just came in too, you may hear a little voice.

[A soft voice is heard in the background.]

Lately, we've talked a lot about how while we generally share love with our family by doing things together — whether that’s hugging each other, reading books together, gardening together — right now we're sharing our love for our grandparents by staying away from them. Actually sometimes you have to protect the ones we love.

Hillary Clinton: What we're finding during this time of social distancing is how much we need each other, how much we really depend on each other, and how important it is that we recognize that.

Another element is how overwhelming nature is. Both in the majestic, positive sense that we feel when we're outdoors, when we watch a flower grow, when we really enjoy the sun — and yet how nature can be so unpredictable.

We need to not only connect intergenerationally, but also more broadly by communities. One of the things that I love, although I've never participated in it, but I've supported it in every way that I could publicly and financially, are community gardens. Anything we could do to reconnect people, particularly children, with nature, with the cycles of nature, with each other, with the larger community, I think is especially important now.

Philomel Books

Romper: How has being out in nature helped you, Madam Secretary, through the innumerable stresses of your jobs?

Hillary Clinton: It was a great solace for me after the 2016 election. There was lots of talk about me walking in the woods, and I was walking quite a bit because I find it so calming and so rejuvenating. But I think you can [get outside] literally out your front door, in your backyard, on your roof deck.

The great joy of gardening is you could do that and see the fruits of your labor, and also understand that not everything is easy. It's not always going to work when you put that seed in and water it. Maybe you water it too much or maybe, you know, there's a big rainstorm, it gets washed away. The first time we did a garden, the deer came and ate everything up. So, lots of lessons that you can learn by being outdoors, and particularly by being outdoors together gardening.

Romper: Did your children have any input on the book, Chelsea?

Chelsea Clinton: The only request Charlotte had is she would be wearing a different color than what [her siblings] each would be wearing.

Hillary Clinton: [Laughing] So cute.

Chelsea Clinton: The serious things.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Grandma's Gardens is out on March 31 from Philomel Books.

Philomel Books