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.


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."


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

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs