"We're surrounded with memories of her just by being in that house," the former first lady and secretary of state tells PEOPLE

By Sam Gillette
March 26, 2020 01:18 PM
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Chelsea and Hillary Clinton
BOB KRASNER

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton believe in the the magic of growing things.

In an interview with PEOPLE, the former first lady and secretary of state-turned-presidential nominee and her daughter reflect on their new children’s book, Grandma’s Gardens, which was inspired by Hillary’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, who was an avid gardener up until her death in November 2011.

They also share the joys of raising Chelsea’s three little ones and how they’re keeping Dorothy’s memory alive.

“I hope that grandparents will think about how important it is to share experiences like gardening with their grandchildren. Gardening is such a wonderful intergenerational activity,” says Hillary, 72, of their book, which will be published by Philomel Books on March 31.

“I remember so well my mother planting flowers every spring and carefully tending the garden beds and the weeding that she did, and the trimming of the roses up the trellises, on the wall of the garage,” she continues. “And when she later moved in with us, so many years beyond that, she still was actively interested in the garden … It made a huge impression on Chelsea when she was a little girl, to see my mother do that.”

Chelsea also has fond memories of her grandma, who moved into the Clinton family home in Washington, D.C., and brought with her art and mementos from her travel — as well as advice on garden design.

“We’re surrounded with memories of her just by being in that house,” Hillary explains.

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Penguin Young Readers

“[Grandma Dorothy] loved nature, and she loved the light of the day, even in a dreary winter. I miss my grandmother so much and I so wish that she could have met her great-grandchildren,” says Chelsea, 40, who shares Charlotte, 5, Aidan, 3, and 8-month-old Jasper with husband Mark Mezvinsky.

“I have no doubt they would’ve loved her as much as I did,” Chelsea says.

“[My kids] really have fun doing something with their grandmother that they know I did with my grandmother,” she continues. “I hope that young readers are excited to go outside and excited to garden and, also, kind of just feel empowered to drive this conversation themselves.”

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Illustrated by Carme Lemniscates, Grandma’s Gardens shows how three generations can connect, learn and share memories while spending time in the garden — an activity that Hillary cherishes even now.

“They are just two funny little people, the older ones. The baby is just such a cheerful, chirpy little person,” she says of her grandchildren. “It just puts a smile on my face from the moment I see them until I have to leave them. The real wonderful opportunity is they live close enough for us to see them regularly.”

From left: Hillary Clinton, Dorothy Rodham and Chelsea Clinton at Chelsea's wedding in 2010
Barbara Kinney

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“The first time we planted a garden, we planted it in big pots, because I thought that would be easier for Charlotte, who was maybe 3, to understand what a garden was,” Hillary recalls. “Unfortunately, that first garden was eaten up by deer and rabbits, so I had to break the news to her that all of her little planting and using a little water can to water the vegetables and the flowers was not going to result in much. But it was a good lesson for her.”

Gardening has also helped her feel connected to her own mom years after Rodham’s death.

“Doing something that she loved to do with the next generation, my children, her great-grandchildren, gives a ready opportunity to talk about her,” Hillary says. “So it’s a way of not only doing something together, but passing on memories to the grandchildren that she never got to meet. Hopefully she lives in their memories going forward.”

A lesson the family has passed down, generation to generation, is making each child feel special.

“One of the things that I learned from my mom was that I always felt like the most important person in the world to her,” Chelsea says. “Even when she was working hard or traveling. I always knew one of the reasons she was working so hard was because she wanted me to grow up in a better and safer, healthier world than she lived in. So I want to give my kids that same sense and understanding.”

Grandma’s Gardens goes on sale on March 31.

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