News / USA

American President Was Revolutionary Gardener

Thomas Jefferson's horticultural legacy is on view at his home, Monticello

Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at his home of Monticello.
Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at his home of Monticello.

Multimedia

Rosanne Skirble

America's third president Thomas Jefferson was a man of many talents.

He wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was a skilled architect, scientist, landscape designer, farmer and life-long gardener.

As a young man, Jefferson inherited his family's 2,000 hectare plantation on Monticello Mountain near Charlottesville, Virginia where he designed the neo-classical house and flower gardens and planted grain fields, fruit orchards and vineyards.

Jefferson's garden

Centuries ago, Jefferson's slaves dug a 300 meter long cut into the red clay hillside for a terraced vegetable garden, which is where Peter Hatch makes his daily rounds today.

Hatch is the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and says the garden is laid out as Jefferson had planned it, in 24 squares - or beds - of herbs and vegetables.

"This was a laboratory for Thomas Jefferson, an Ellis Island of new and unusual plants that came literally from around the world. Jefferson documented the planting of 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 varieties of fruit in this garden."

Jefferson exchanged seeds from people in the U.S states and in foreign countries, where he traveled as secretary of state before he was president. Hatch says many of those seeds blossomed in Jefferson's Virginia home garden. "He wrote that the greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture."

According to Hatch, the food grown in Jefferson's garden inspired a revolutionary cuisine with new crops like lima beans from the American Indians and tomatoes and potatoes, European discoveries from Central and South America.

Meticulous records

Jefferson believed that organizing the world according to scientific methods led to human progress and happiness.

He writes about his horticultural ups and downs in meticulous detail in his Garden Book, a diary he kept from 1766 to 1824. Hatch says unlike few gardeners, Jefferson was not afraid to admit failure. "On one page in 1809 the word failed is written down 19 times. He had a holistic view, as we say today, of the gardening process. It is the failure of one thing that is repaired by the success of another."

When Hatch came to Monticello 30 years ago, about a third of the terraced vegetable garden was a parking lot. Restoration was based on archeological and documentary evidence. While Hatch is faithful to Jefferson's plan, few species remain from Jefferson's day. Hatch says the challenge is to add to the collection.

"Some things we found were Jefferson's plants, like tennis ball lettuce and tree onions, but other things elude us. So planting is done in an interpretative way to illustrate Jefferson's horticulture views."

Experiment

Visiting from Denver, Colorado, Kris Somers and Doug Corley are struck by the vista from Monticello Mountain, the geometric planting beds, and the garden's history.

"I could see him out here experimenting," Somers says. Corley says the garden is an inspiration for backyard gardeners like himself. "I think he was on to something well before we were."

Somers nods in approval, "Yeah, I think that we could still learn a thing or two from what's he's done here for sure."

Peter Hatch says Jefferson's advice to modern day gardeners would be to experiment. Visitors to Monticello can start with seeds harvested from Jefferson's garden on sale in the museum's gift shop.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs