Archives for posts with tag: Monticello

When Thomas Jefferson first visited England, a British nobleman sniffed that TJ looked like “a tall large-boned farmer.”

Which is exactly what he was.

As a young man, Jefferson carved Monticello out of a mountainside high above Charlottesville. After his presidency, he planted beautifully laid-out ornamental gardens, designed on the drawings he sketched into notebooks during his European travels.

But Jefferson was, at heart, a farmer. He grew 125 varieties of fruit trees, half of which were peach trees. He planted gooseberries and currants that Lewis and Clark discovered along the Missouri River. He tried to grow grapes for wine, but the French cultivars failed to thrive – and likely would not have pleased the palate for fine wine he developed in Paris anyway.

His kitchen garden was 1,000 feet long – more than three football fields. Overseeing the garden was Jefferson’s favorite pastime in his retirement. He considered it a horticultural lab. He meticulously kept a Garden Book, noting planting and harvest dates, names of plants, number of seeds planted. He sorted “fruits” from “leaves” and “roots.”

What did TJ sow? Many varieties of English beans, pumpkin from Africa, French lettuces, Roman broccoli, kale from Malta, New York corn, Swedish turnips, Prussian peas. He planted 40 varieties of kidney beans over the years, before finally settling on two favorites.

Monticello gardens

Monticello gardens

And of course he kept the seeds sorted in a special cupboard.

In the twilight of his life, Jefferson relished his agrarian roots at Monticello. “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener,” he wrote.

For more about TJ’s gardens, check out these videos from Monticello. And you can buy seeds and plants descended from his gardens online.

I think a visit to the estate of my favorite president may be in order as his gardens awaken from the earth.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

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.