Well, I have to admit, I started laughing when I first saw Michelle Obama out on the White House lawn trying to muscle her way through the half-frozen soil in mid-March. It may not be the ideal time to start planting your vegetable garden in most of the midwest (or mid-Atlantic, for that matter), but it's the perfect time for planning this year's garden and starting seeds indoors. Why not inspire kids to grow a vegetable garden just like the Obamas, or a former President?
Presidential gardeners and vegetable gardens at the White House have been there on and off since John Adams, the building's first resident, in 1800. Thomas Jefferson's famous gardens at Monticello were meticulously documented (www.moticello.org/gardens/index.html). Monticello has made it easy by selling seeds (both by variety and sample packs) that seem reasonably priced at www.monticellostore.stores.yahoo.net/plants---seeds.html. And if you're lucky enough to live nearby, you can actually visit and buy plants from their nursery. In 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden at the White House. Jimmy Carter planted herbs between the flowers. The Clinton and W. Bush staff harvested food from a vegetable garden on the roof, too. Yes, I admit, this type of "theme garden" might not get every child super excited about gardening. But it might be a great starting point for garden planning with your children this year.
Now, if you decide to grow a historic period garden, there are several considerations to take into account. In the 1800's, most home gardens were started from seed or divisions from family, friends and neighbors. The commercial seed trade really did not boom until the 19th century, and the popularity of specific varieties have changed through time. It may be difficult or impossible to find the exact varieties from the historic garden you're replicating. Be flexible. The effect will be the same. Search online for heirloom seeds. A good place to start is Victory Seed Company or Burpee Seed. If you can't find the specific plant, or they just seem too expensive, ask your local garden center to suggest a good substitute.
Victory Seed has a list containing varieties appropriate for an 18th century kitchen garden and herbal pharmacy, "either actual varieties used in the period or close in characteristics to varieties described in primary source documentation". Pretty cool if you're really going for authenticity.
If you want to plant what the Obamas are planting this spring, you can view the garden design at http:www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/garden_layout.pdf. It includes raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, herbs, peas, broccoli, and lots and lots of greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, and collards). Most of the plants are very common and should be relatively easy to find.