Learning from a fellow gardening nerd

I mean “gardening nerd” in the most inspired way, of course.

A few weeks back, we took a weekend trip to Charlottesville. It had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. (And while, I do still have a sore spot for the University of Virginia’s pep band for a certain incident I’d like to forget, I loved the hometown of the historic university.) The highlight of the trip of course, was a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, specifically the garden.

You can take a guided tour of the garden, or do it on your own. I recommend the guided tour, if you’re buying a ticket to tour the inside of the house anyway. The guide was exceptional on both the history of the home and it’s most famous owner, and gardening knowledge. I believe her name was Elaine.

She knew all about why Thomas Jefferson, planted what he did. He was a scholar of horticulture and gardens, throughout his time in the United States, and especially while in Europe. He believed that gardening was art–that the land was essentially a blank canvas and what we planted and cultivated was the paint. Both vegetable gardeners and flower gardeners can appreciate the grounds.

Me with a foxglove. One of my favorite flowers.

His vegetable beds were my favorite part, obviously. He experimented with hundreds of varieties over the years–more than two dozen varieties of lettuce.

I think Thomas Jefferson was our country’s first “foodie.” He understood that although we need food to fuel our bodies, it was something to be thoroughly enjoyed, and he was very thoughtful about it. He enjoyed many of the foods he had in Europe, and brought back seeds and ideas to try in his own garden. Here are some artichokes, one of the things he ate in Europe and later grew at Monticello.

The cabbage and kale were ready for harvest. Everything grown in the vegetable garden today is something he tried over the years he lived at Monticello. Thankfully, he kept meticulous notes about his garden. He noted weather patterns, every variety he tried, plant and harvest dates and yields. They have been published into a book, which is sold in the gift shop. I didn’t opt for it, although I think it would be fantastic. I did buy a couple packs of lettuce seeds, though.
He tried unsuccessfully to cultivate grapes at Monticello for wine making. After his death, however, this part of Virginia became a hugely successful wine region. No trip would be complete without visiting a few wineries. We visited two nearby. Jefferson enjoyed wine with his evening meals, a habbit he picked up in Europe. He also made his own beer, and grew hops on his property, although he was more partial to wine.
I think it is safe to say that Thomas Jefferson is best know as a Founding Father of our country, and part of the fascinating thing to me was to see that something else altogether was definitely his truest passion. I think he was probably happiest at Monticello in his garden. It is clear he thoroughly enjoyed gardening, both its successes and failures, which is a lesson we can all take away from our own gardens.

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