I love history and I love gardening. Which makes Virginia an absolutely wonderful place to live. You can get your garden inspiration from the Founding Fathers. I have one of George Washington’s favorite flowers gracing my patio, and a winterberry from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in our yard. Many of the historic estates have native plant sales, and April is prime time (see list below).

The lobelia cardinalis was one of Washington’s favorite plants, a brilliant red flower of the herbaceous family. After he returned from the Revolutionary War, Washington agonized over the plantings at Mount Vernon. The meticulously laid-out kitchen garden was, of course, essential to feeding the hundreds who lived at the estate. Washington rode horse across his 8,000-acre property every day, and noted plants and trees that he then transplanted around the mansion. He wrote to friends and relatives across the colonies and asked them to send native plants to diversify Mount Vernon, seeking what he called the “curious” and “exotic.”

Jefferson kept a lifelong Garden Book, meticulously listing vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and ornamental flowers. While serving as ambassador to France, Jefferson visited England and toured the great gardens of that country. Agog at the beauty of the British gardens, Jefferson scribbled lengthy lists and drawings. These ideas he brought home to design flowers and fauna for the 10,000 acres of Monticello. We have a winterberry from the estate, also known as a serviceberry, treasured for its red berried branches in cold months.

Go admire the gardens of these historic estates, and then plant a few flowers that remind you of the covenant between gardeners today and the Founding Fathers.

Mark your calendar:

  • Mount Vernon’s spring garden sale runs April 21 through May 20. It’s at the shop just outside the grounds, so you needn’t pay admission. It features flowers, herbs and vegetables grown at the estate.
  • Monticello has plants and heritage seeds at the gift shop.  There is also a special two-hour guided tour of the gardens that includes planting and sampling of spring vegetables. April 21 and 23, fee.
  • Another of Washington’s farms, River Farm in Alexandria, has a spring garden market April 13-14.
  • Many communities sponsor native plant sales. In Alexandria, the Parkfairfax neighborhood association brings in 14 vendors from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. The sale is April 28.
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