T. Jefferson's Amazing Vegetable Garden
|Vegetable Garden at Monticello|
Thomas Jefferson, the third president, was an ardent plant lover and a pioneer plant distributor. He collected exotic trees and shrubs and investigated new crops to grow in the United States. He was instrumental in introducing many vegetables into the young American culture.
For example, he smuggled rice in a tea canister from his tour in Italy and sent it to South Carolina and Georgia as a possible crop. His attempts to have farmers in those areas sow various varieties of foreign rice, were finally successful and, in time, it became a flourishing agricultural crop.
Jefferson also sent Lewis and Clark off to explore the west and asked them to gather native seeds. He corresponded with many to have them send vegetable seeds from other parts of the globe.
Nicholas King, mapmaker for the Lewis and Clark expedition explained, “no person has been more zealous to enrich the United States by the introduction of new and useful vegetables.”
Peter Hatch, who spent 35 years restoring the 2,400 acre landscape at Jefferson’s, Monticello told Teresa O'Connor of the great Seasonal Wisdom blog that the vegetable garden at Monticello, was Jefferson’s chief horticultural achievement. Hatch noted that Jefferson, “...documented growing 330 varieties of 99 species of vegetables here... This experimental laboratory was the garden of Jefferson’s retirement years.”
Jefferson chose an ideal southeastern orientation for his immense terraced, vegetable garden. More than five thousand tons of rock were built as high as 12 feet high to create level land on a hillside and offered breathtaking 40-mile views to the south and east.
Hatch’s book, A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, notes that more than 20 different lettuce types grew at Monticello, including Tennis Ball, Brown Dutch and Ice. Some were eaten fresh, others were steamed like spinach.
Lettuces were harvested every month of the year because as, Jefferson wrote in his gardening calendar, “… a thimbleful of Lettuce should be sowed every Monday morning, from Feb. 1st to Sept. 1.” ( see Seasonal Wisdom for a great description of this.)
|Tennis Ball Lettuce - buy seeds from Monticello|
Jefferson was an inveterate foodie. He loved English peas and allocated a great deal of garden space to growing this cool-season food at Monticello. He even had spring pea-growing contests with neighbors and used branches pruned from his peach tree to stake the peas.
|from Map and Menu|
He never stopped experimenting with growing vegetables of all kinds. Jefferson wrote to a friend that growing new possible food crops was essential, saying,
"the scripture precept of 'prove all things and hold fast that which is good' is peculiarly wise in objects of agriculture."
Thank goodness Jefferson was a horticulturalist! His efforts in the plant world provided our young country with a diverse plant palette, including all-important and nourishing vegetables.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture". We are so lucky he felt that way.