WASHINGTON -; This is how you plant a tree for a queen: Measure the root ball carefully, drag the dead-weight bundle into its planting hole, cut back the wire basket holding the burlap, and leave just enough of the soil backfilling undone for the tree planting ceremony.
Jim Adams has made his plans for Queen Elizabeth II's state visit to Washington. The horticulturist at the 8-acre garden at the British Embassy residence will be on hand Tuesday as Her Majesty symbolically installs a hybrid English oak on the south lawn. "She'll have some ceremonial soil throwing," he says. "I'm not going to give her the bolt cutters and tell her to cut the basket off."
In the 18 months since he took charge of the garden around the stately red brick building, Adams has set about revitalizing one of the highest profile gardens on Embassy Row. He has hired other gardeners, enlisted a cadre of keen volunteers and set about imbuing his army of cultivators with an energy and enthusiasm that almost match his own.
A slight, boyish-looking native of Michigan, Adams is mindful of the iconic place of the garden in British mythology, and yet he is reviving a tired landscape in a way that is neither strictly British nor distinctly American. It is, however, entirely Jim Adams. His style is a Type A blend of organization and inspiration, and those who have seen Adams' work elsewhere have little doubt the ambassador and his wife, Sir David and Lady Catherine Manning, have got themselves one heck of a gardener.
"I think he's one of the best plantsmen in the country," says Derya Samadi, an assistant.
Adams, 40, has been working furiously to prepare the garden for the royal visit. Any dead branches have been excised. A medlar fruit tree that blew over in a summer storm will be grist for the chipper. The cool and warm greenhouses are stuffed with plants that will decorate the house and grounds.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip began their official tour Thursday in Virginia to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the nation's founding at Jamestown and conclude the visit Tuesday, hosting a dinner for President and Mrs. Bush at the residence. Monarch and consort will hold a Buckingham Palace-style garden party Monday for embassy staff. The tree planting is scheduled for the next day.
Adams learned his gardening at Michigan State University and then interned at such horticultural jewels as the Chicago Botanic Garden, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., and the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia. He worked at Washington's National Arboretum for more than 12 years, the last nine as curator of its central landscape attraction, the 5-acre National Herb Garden.
He laughs when people ask whether he's trying to create an English-style garden. He is inspired by great gardens in North America and Britain, he says. What is left unsaid is the slim chance of someone so versed in his repertoire copying a given style or the work of another gardener or another age. In his hands, the National Herb Garden became a highly crafted cottage garden, with poppies and larkspur blooming with antique roses.
This is Adams' forte, says Andrew Bunting, curator of the Scott Arboretum: "A cottagey feeling but having tidy maintenance, which if you can pull it off makes for a very effective garden, and that's sort of the hardest type of gardening."
Adams is not so much panicked by the royal visit as energized by it. "Jim feeds on that," Bunting says.
The preparations, however, are merely a blip in a much grander five-year plan Adams has forged for the revitalization of a sprawling landscape. He spent much of his early tenure clearing out overgrown vegetation, including a bamboo screen. There also is something ironic about Adams asking the Mannings if he can rid them of their English ivy.
"The ambassador and his wife are very supportive of not displaying plants that are invasive," says Adams, who also has weaned the garden off its chemical dependencies.
You get a sense that if he had a fairy-tale choice between being a prince and a gardener, the decision would be easy.
Now he works for the British government and, by extension, for the queen. "I guess I have the best job in that government. I get to garden."