Landscape of Monticello
Botany and Good Food
Jefferson's interest in gardening was also furthered by his appreciation for good food, particularly fruits and vegetables. He wrote, "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, & that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet." Using data he compiled as president, early in his retirement he created a chart showing the first and last appearance of thirty-seven vegetables in the Washington farmers market. According to Smith, Jefferson regularly visited foreign embassies, which vied with each other to provide the most unusual type of vegetable. Jefferson, in turn, procured and passed the seeds to local farmers with instructions on the vegetables' cultivation. He also directed his French household administrator, Etienne Lemaire, to pay the highest price for the produce brought to the market earliest in the season. Although the President's House included a small nursery bed of endive for winter salads, Jefferson's sketches for ornamental landscaping there were never executed.
Jefferson has been described as America's "first distinguished viticulturist" and "the greatest patron of wine and winegrowing that this country has yet had." He wrote that "no nation is drunken where wine is cheap," and that "wine from long habit has become indispensable to my health." His viticultural legacy, usually as a failed winemaker, is often recalled by the Virginia wine industry. Vineyards were planted intensively at Monticello on seven separate occasions from 1774 until 1816, the replantings suggesting a perennial problem with grape cultivation because of disease, transportation problems, or simple neglect. Grapes were harvested at Monticello, but no record of winemaking has survived. Jefferson's most completely documented grape planting also occurred during a vacation from the presidency, in March 1807. Two vineyards, totaling 25,000 square feet and ideally sited for grape cultivation in the heart of the Monticello South Orchard, were planted with 287 rooted vines and cuttings of twenty-four varieties of the European grape Vitis vinifera. This profusion of grape varieties, many of them table grapes from northern Italy, suggests that winemaking was secondary to experimentation.
Fruits and Trees
Ornamental trees also ranked high among Jefferson's gardening achievements. Visitors to Monticello were given tours of what one guest described as his "pet trees." Guests also commonly commented on the lofty trees that crowned the summit of Monticello. Jefferson has been described as "the father of American forestry" for an intensive planting of white pine and hemlock he supervised in 1804. He wrote about planting groves of native and exotic species, clumps of ornamentals adjacent to the house, and allées of mulberry and honey locust along his road network of "roundabouts." Jefferson's enthusiasm for the arboreal world persisted to his last years, when he envisioned an arboretum for the University of Virginia two months before his death. He was perhaps inspired by his own adage: "Too old to plant trees for my own gratification, I shall do it for my posterity."
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Hatch, P. Thomas Jefferson and Gardening. (2016, October 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Jefferson_Thomas_and_Gardening.
- MLA Citation:
Hatch, Peter. "Thomas Jefferson and Gardening." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 26 Oct. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: October 15, 2013 | Last modified: October 26, 2016