Friday, August 31, 2012


By now, I am sure most of you have perused your September issue of Southern Living which features the article "Breaking Ground" chronicling the restoration efforts of the famed vegetable garden of Monticello!

Side view of the back of Monticello as seen from the North Pavillion/Terrace

Coincidentally, in the month of July, my husband and I accompanied our eldest child to the great state of Virginia to tour the University of Virginia as one of his college choices.  While the boys took in the afternoon session of the School of Engineering, I snuck off to Monticello, famed home of our third President, Thomas Jefferson, also founder of the University of Virginia, to marvel at his gardening genius.

Jefferson statue guards the steps to the Rotunda.

What I learned, was that despite penning the Declaration of Independence and serving for thirty-three years in public life including Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Minister to France, Vice President and President, Thomas Jefferson viewed himself first and foremost as a "farmer" listing that as his occupation on a census as opposed to his many other notable titles.

Squash vines grow among the rustic tuteurs

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden" claimed Jefferson in 1811.

View from Vegetable Garden to Vineyard below.
Orchard trees can be seen to the right.

While most gardens of the day were formal and regimental, Jefferson designed his lawn and flower borders in curving, serpentine waves reflecting his interest in the "informal style" of landscape design - a field he considered one of the seven fine arts. He mixed formal, "old world" plants alongside wildflowers and native plants.  What plants did I notice in his flower borders?

Tricolor Joseph's Coat

Bloodflower - a cousin to Butterfly Weed seen commonly in Alabama

Blackberry Lily
Crested Cockscomb
Purple Coneflower


While the flower borders were stunning, Jefferson's "true garden" was the vegetable garden cut into the south side of his mountain and supported by a massive stone retaining wall.  

The grand vegetable garden boasted some 330 varieties of some 99 species of herbs and vegetables and was organized into "squares" of either "roots", "leaves", or "fruits". 

Tomato plants supported by rustic framework
anchored the "fruits" square.

A strategically placed garden pavilion stands at midpoint allowing Jefferson unobstructed view of his orchards, vineyards and vegetable garden while affording him a quiet respite to record journal entries.  Jefferson forged the path to gardening success by making careful record of his failed attempts and thus discovered what WOULD work by eliminating what DID NOT work in his garden.

Can't you just see Jefferson sitting here
making his garden journal entries?

Jefferson may very well have been the pioneer of the "Locavore" movement of eating fresh, local foods being a firm believer in sustainable gardening.  Through rich organic matter mixed into his soil and using only the strongest "heirloom" seeds, Jefferson over time cultivated a bountiful garden of vegetables and herbs. 

Foreign dignitaries would compete to "wow" Jefferson with the most unique varieties of plants.  What were my favorites?

French Artichokes

Look at this unusual, stunning French Artichoke bloom!


The herb Lavender

I could tell Jefferson admired tomatoes
as he had several different cultivars!

The 'Cow's Horn' Okra mentioned in the
Southern Living article caught my eye, too!

I was a bit surprised to still see Asparagus in late July.

Another reason to like Jefferson and recognize his genius? His earliest designs for Monticello included spaces for brewing and storing beer.  His spacious beer cellar would make grown men weep with joy at the sight.

Jugs held the beer as corks were hammered in to seal the brew!

Always ready for a keg party it appears!

Of course, one of MY favorites of Monticello was the "dumbwaiter" which allowed wine to be brought from the cellar below up to the Dining Room upon the ring of a bell! 

Deliver the Wine!  Good Stuff!

"Wine is indispensable for my health" claimed Jefferson who would happily indulge in one to three glasses depending on his mood. A man after my own heart!

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after penning the Declaration of Independence.  His grave is located on the grounds of Monticello in a family site surrounded by a wrought iron fence and framed by Trifolate orange trees.

Thick iron spires majestically enclose the gravesite

Jefferson obviously wanted to be remembered for three things:
Independence, Freedom and Knowledge. 

Trifolate Orange Trees - see the thorns?

Like Jefferson, I am a firm believer in sustainable gardening and many edible plants not only thrive in our climate, they have ornamental value to the landscape.  There is something rewarding about using your time to plant a seed, nurture it, and watch it grow.

I hope you enjoyed my Monticello Reflections.  It was a trip I will never forget!

photos courtesy of:

mother nature garden designs

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