When Jefferson referenced his “garden” in written records, he was usually referring to his vegetable garden. While the flower gardens of the West Lawn are lovely, they are miniscule in comparison to Jefferson’s vegetable garden. Monticello’s terraced vegetable garden is 1,000 feet long and the 19th century garden has been restored by referencing the meticulous notes of Jefferson’s Garden Book. Jefferson grew about 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs and today the garden serves as a seed bank to preserve 19th century vegetable varieties.
Today, the vegetables in the garden are labeled according to the notes found in Jefferson’s Garden Book. The stake marking this squash variety is marked “TJ 1812” which means it was first referenced in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1812.
The stake marking this bean variety is labeled in a similar manner, but also shows “L&C” below the year. This means that this vegetable was brought back from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and planted in Jefferson’s garden in 1807. Jefferson’s presidency is most known for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. In addition to adding vegetables to his garden, Jefferson also had many expedition “souvenirs” throughout his home that were brought back by Lewis & Clark.
There are also other vegetables currently growing at Monticello that were never recorded in Jefferson’s Garden Book. This tomato plant for example, does not have his initials and/or a year marked on the stake, but it is believed that it was likely planted in Jefferson’s garden based on what vegetables were commonly planted in the region at that time.
The garden pavilion sits in the middle of the garden and overlooks the eight-acre orchard, vineyard and berry plots. Jefferson used the pavilion as an evening reading location.
Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s original wine enthusiasts after serving as Minister to France. He was committed to growing European varieties of grapes at Monticello with the hopes of making his own wine. He never succeeded. Before the development of modern pesticides, these European varieties were extremely susceptible to local pests that killed the crop. However, Jefferson’s vision did lead to a successful wine market in Virginia. Today, Virginia ranks 5th in the country for the number of wineries and production of wine. And while it didn’t happen in Jefferson’s lifetime, Monticello successfully bottles about 1,000 bottles of wine every year.
Today, the vegetables and fruit grown at Monticello are used at their tasting events, served at the Café at Monticello, or distributed to employees.
2 thoughts on “A Glimpse into Jefferson’s Garden”
I love that his garden serves as a living history. I never know it was a seed bank or wonderful details like “LC.” Thanks for sharing!
Rob and I really lucked out on that “LC” detail! We just happened to stroll by a couple of volunteers that were dying to pass along some info to tourists!