Monticello – Jefferson’s Vegetable Garden

Memorial Day weekend Erika and I drove across Virginia to visit Jefferson’s Monticello Vegetable Garden as part of our Virginia garden tour.

Kitchen Garden at Monticello © Britt Conley

Little did I know I would be stumbling upon a phenomenal opportunity to see the garden first hand from one of the gardeners : Pat Brodowski.  Although she has only been there a short time, the director of the gardens, Peter Hatch has certainly taught her well.  Her insight and verbal history was wonderful and gave this Bee just what she needed to help share Monticello with all of you.

Pat Brodowski © Britt Conley

There is also a garden assistant : Katen Reynolds who similarly spends her days planting and assisting in the maintenance of the garden.

The Assistant © Britt Conley

We ran across her several times checking various plant beds.

The assistant in the garden © Britt Conley

One of the first things Pat shared with us were Jefferson’s White Pine Strawberries.  Now, I had never seen one before and couldn’t quite grasp the idea that this strawberry is white when ripe.  Pat was kind enough to pull one off and give me a chance to taste it.  It has a sweet flavor that differs from the regular red strawberries.  Really interesting.

White Pine Strawberry © Britt Conley

Working here on a daily basis must be absolutely amazing!  The garden is plum full of Jefferson’s own experimental cultivations.  Many of which were either new to America or brought back from the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.  Peter Hatch explains in his book The Garden’s of Thomas Jeffferson’s Monticello, that for Jefferson, the massive garden, “was a botanic garden, an experimental station, and Ellis Island of new and unusual introductions from around the world.” These, he adds, “were probably first grown in the New World by Jefferson himself.”

Garden © Britt Conley

One of the interesting vegetables we encountered was the Purple Carrot!  Once peeled, the purplish skin, reveals a more yellow-orange color underneath.  Pat was kind enough to pull one up for us.  I didn’t expect this but boy am I glad she did!

Purple Carrot © Britt Conley

The purple carrot wasn’t the only purplish plant that was new to this Bee.  We also took a visit over to the blue pea pods.  Jefferson loved his peas and cultivated this Blue Pod Pea, also known as Blue pod Capucijners.  It can look purple as well in just the right light.  It was just one of some thirty types of peas that Jefferson experimented with.

Blue Pea Pod © Britt Conley

Despite the amazing color, once cut open, the pod produces peas that look like any other.  These particular ones however, Pat explained, are not necessarily the best tasting.

Blue Pea Pod © Britt Conley

Jefferson also loved Sea Kale, a rarity in American gardens.  It can be found overseas on Northern European Coasts and the Baltics.  Here they use clay blanching pots to block the chlorophyll process. The resulting, “blanched” leaves provide far more flavor than those left alone.

Sea Kale also known as Crambe maritima © Britt Conley

One of the great things about tending to Jefferson’s garden is that much of everything he did was painstakingly written down.  The French Artichokes, Pat explained, “were planted by Jefferson on March 19th and harvested on July 6.  This year however, we planted them on March 22 and it’s May 31st and the artichokes are already budding!”  This is just one of the signs of the crazy weather pattern Monticello has had to endure this year.  It was 90 in April followed by freezes this year.

French Artichoke © Britt Conley

Another first for me was seeing French Lavender!  How lovely it’s short floral tops are.

French Lavender © Britt Conley

It really looks nothing like the more familiar English Lavender.

Lavender © Britt Conley

Jefferson’s garden is absolutely immense!  Despite the sheer width of the rows and rows that cover the area, the lengthy entirety of the garden runs 1000 feet!

Rows and Rows © Britt Conley

One just can’t get an image of the entire area without moving up and above!  Below is just a small portion.  Of course Jefferson had one way of dealing with the sizeable logistics of envisioning his garden at once.  He built his beloved brick room smack dab in the middle of it.

Jefferson's favorite garden © Britt Conley

From here, he could think and write about his garden from a perfect shaded view.

Jefferson's home away from home © Britt Conley

All four sides of the structure have large windows so that he could not only see both left and right of the spatial vegetation in front of him, he could also look behind to view the vineyard and fruit trees below.

Jefferson's home away from home © Britt Conley

According to the Monticello website, the pavilion, has, “double-sash windows, Chinese railing, and pyramidal roof” and, “… was used by Jefferson as a quiet retreat where he could read in the evening. It was reputedly blown down in a violent wind storm in the late 1820’s. The pavilion was reconstructed in 1984 based on Jefferson’s notes and archaeological excavations.”   I found it was teaming with people all day!   Many of whom were absolutely enamoured by the personal nature of the building.

Jefferson's home away from home © Britt Conley

If you are going to visit Virginia and want to be a part of American Garden History, visit Jefferson’s garden at Monticello.  As you can see there is plenty to stroll through and the views are stunning!  They have great garden tours that you can easily get tickets for.  And I can highly recommend Peter Hatch’s book: The Gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  You can pick one up in the Monticello Museum Store where there are also plenty of other garden books, including Jefferson’s own!

The Monticello Garden © Britt Conley

Erika and I were here for hours and didn’t even get a chance to do the house tour!  But then again we were a bit preoccupied with the fruits of Jefferson’s favorite past time.

Monticello © Britt Conley

I can’t wait to come back and see the inside of Monticello and get a far better comprehension of Jefferson’s daily life.  For now I’ll just have to think of him looking out at this view and turning around to tend to his garden.

The view from Monticello's Heritage Vegetable Garden © Britt Conley

I want to thank Pat one more time for taking twenty minutes to offer some personal insight into Jefferson’s plant selections.  One of the first questions I asked was, what happens to the vegetables after they are picked?  She replied that this is one of the first and most frequent questions she always gets.  “The Gardens Produce,” she explained, “goes to the store Food of All Nations, the Cafe, staff and seed production.”  Funny enough, It wasn’t long before I overheard someone else ask her the very same question!

Well I could do many more posts on this amazing place.  I certainly will have to come back and soon!  I hope you enjoyed this look at Jefferson’s vegetable garden and find a way to come here for yourself!  It’s well worth the trip!

For more information on the garden visit http://www.monticello.org/gardens/index.html

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

‘Til Tomorrow…

Britt : )

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