At Monticello’s Welcome Center, visitors are greeted with a sign that explains Thomas Jefferson’s sustainable principles of building and gardening — conserve water, protect the soil, respect the natural landscape and its native plants, experiment with the latest scientific approaches, and use local materials.
These principals are seen everywhere on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, from the Welcome Center (which has a Gold LEED certification) to the kitchen gardens which occupy the same grounds as Jefferson’s original gardens did 200 years ago.
We visited Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this week, and I was awed by the vegetable and fruit gardens. I thought I’d share a few of my photos to give you the incentive to visit yourself if you’re ever in the area. The tour of Monticello itself is reason enough to go. Jefferson was an amazing innovator, not just in gardening, but also in architecture. Oh, and there’s also that little historical document called the Declaration of Independence that he wrote and his presidency, too. Pretty clever guy.
At left is a section of the 1,000-foot-long vegetable garden that exists at Monticello today. Set on the site of the original garden, the recreation of the present garden began in 1979 and shows as best as possible the garden that existed between 1807 and 1814. The vegetables are grown with organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. The vegetables are used in the visitor's restaurant, for special events at Monticello, and can be taken home by workers at the historical site.
Ever heard of a scarlet runner bean (See photo, right)? I hadn’t. One of the purposes of the present day garden is to preserve seeds that aren’t easily found elsewhere. Some of the seeds that have been preserved have ended up in Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden at the White House. In the 1800s, Jefferson grew more than 250 varieties of vegetables in his gardens. Today there are even more varieties.
The original fruit garden contained 60 different varieties of peach trees that Jefferson cultivated. The garden, which Jefferson called The Fruitery, also contained apple trees (many were turned into cider), cherry trees, pears, apricots, figs and more. In all, there were more than 130 varieties of fruit trees that grew at Monticello during Jefferson's time.
The present-day fruit garden also contains grape vines. Originally, there were two vineyards on the property. Jefferson had a reputation for loving wine and is known as America’s first distinguished viticulturist. He served wine after dinner, not during dinner. (During dinner, he would serve beer or cider.)
The produce from the gardens ended up in this kitchen (at right) that was built underneath Monticello. It was common during the time to build kitchens away from the house, but Jefferson had spent time in France where kitchens were built under the homes, and he incorporated their fire-safety measures into his home. The food was brought into the home through underground tunnels that led to the dining area.
There is a lot to learn about the origins of our modern-day kitchen gardens by visiting Monticello. If you can’t get there in person anytime soon, the website has a wealth of information about the original gardens and the present-day gardens.
MNN homepage photo: Globe Photos