<div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p><b>"A Rich Spot of Earth"</b></p> <br> <p>In 1811, Thomas Jefferson, retired from the presidency to his lifelong home at Monticello, wrote to the Philadelphia portrait painter Charles Willson Peale a transcendent anthem to the garden:</p> <p>I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro' the year. Under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener.</p> <br> <p>Jefferson's elegantly composed fantasy of an alternative career as a market gardener is well known because it resonates with gardeners from all ages (fig. 1.2). The image of repeated harvests through the season suggests the hopefulness inherent in the gardening process. Thomas Jefferson's garden during his retirement from public life at Monticello, 1809–1826, was the terraced vegetable garden, a thousand-foot-long experimental laboratory overlooking the rolling Piedmont Virginia countryside. This was the chief horticultural achievement of Thomas Jefferson's tenure at Monticello, itself described as his autobiography in the way its architecture and gardens expressed the multifaceted intellect of the author of the Declaration of Independence.</p> <p>Thomas Jefferson's Monticello vegetable garden was a revolutionary American garden. Many of the summer vegetables we take for granted today—tomatoes, okra, eggplant, lima beans, peanuts, peppers—were slow to appear in North American gardens around 1800. European travelers commented on the failure of Virginia gardeners to take advantage of "the fruitful warmth of the climate" because of the American reliance on "the customary products of Europe": cool-season vegetables. Jefferson's garden was unique in showcasing a medley of vegetable species native to hot climates, from South and Central America to Africa to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Few places on earth combine tropical heat and humidity with temperate winters like those at Monticello. Jefferson capitalized on this by creating a south-facing terrace, a microclimate that exaggerates the summer warmth, tempers the winter cold, and captures an abundant wealth of crop-ripening sunshine. His collection of esculent talent, culled from virtually every Western culture known at the time, provided a display of warm- and cool-season vegetables unrivaled among American gardens of his day (fig. 1.3).</p> <p>Jefferson's Monticello garden was an Ellis Island of introduced economic plants, some 330 varieties of ninety-nine species of vegetables and herbs. Jefferson wrote that "the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to it's culture," and he envisioned his garden as a means for transforming society. He distributed seeds of his latest novelty vegetable to neighbors, political allies like George Washington and James Madison, and an international community of plantsmen, with the persistence of a religious reformer, a missionary of seeds. Although it is difficult to verify that Jefferson was the first to introduce any specific vegetable into American gardens, the recitation of crops grown at Monticello is a roster of rare, unusual, and pioneering species: asparagus bean, sea kale, tomatoes, rutabaga, okra, potato pumpkins, winter melons, tree onion, peanuts, "sprout kale," serpentine cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, or-ach, chickpeas, gherkins, cayenne pepper, rhubarb, black salsify, sesame, eggplant. Jefferson summed up his experimental proclivities in a letter to Samuel Vaughan Jr. in 1790: "I have always thought that if in the experiments to introduce or to communicate new plants, one species in an hundred is found useful and succeeds, the ninety nine found otherwise are more than paid for" (fig. 1.4).</p> <p>The vegetable garden in itself is the true American garden: practical, expansive, wrought from a world of edible immigrants. The Monticello garden is distinctly American in its scale and scope. More than two hundred thousand cubic feet of Piedmont red clay was moved with a mule and cart by a crew of enslaved men Jefferson hired from a Fredericksburg, Virginia, farmer. Over three years they created the garden terrace, which was retained by five thousand tons of rock laid as high as twelve feet and extending the length of the garden. Jefferson's four-hundred-tree south orchard, surrounding two vineyards, extended below the wall and vegetable terrace, and the entire complex was enclosed by a ten-foot-high paling fence that ran for more than half a mile. Looking east from the garden plateau today, one is struck by the "ocean view" and, to the southwest, by the pleasing pattern of rows of vegetables against the background of Montalto, Jefferson's "high mountain." Atop the massive stone wall, Jefferson designed a classically inspired temple or pavilion, described appropriately as an "observatory" by some Monticello visitors. The pavilion is a deliberately designed perch upon which to gaze into the Virginia landscape, and the terraced garden was a stage from which to look down at what Jefferson referred to as "the workhouse of nature ... clouds, hail, snow, rain, thunder, all fabricated at our feet" (fig. 1.5).</p> <p>Thomas Jefferson liked to eat vegetables, and the Monticello kitchen expressed a blend of new culinary traditions based on these recent garden introductions. In 1819 he wrote Dr. Vine Utley of his recipe for healthy living, "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that ... as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet." A recipe for okra soup, or gumbo, long attributed to Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, is an apt metaphor for the Monticello garden. The Jefferson family gumbo is a rich blend of "native" vegetables like lima beans and Cymlings, or Pattypan squash, that were grown by American Indians on the arrival of the first Europeans. It also included new vegetables found by Spanish explorers like potatoes, an Andean discovery adopted by northern Europeans, as well as tomatoes, collected in Central America and embraced by Mediterranean cultures as early as the seventeenth century. Binding the soup was an African plant, okra, grown and "creolized" by both the French and enslaved blacks in the West Indies. The dish was ultimately prepared by African American chefs trained in the fine arts of French cuisine in the kitchen at Monticello. Jefferson, according to culinary historian Karen Hess, was "our most illustrious epicure," our only epicurean president, and his devotion to fresh produce, whether in the President's House at a state dinner, or at Monticello for the large numbers of guests who crowded the retired president's table, remains a key contribution of his gardening career.</p> <p>In the same way that Jefferson's Declaration of Independence defined a legacy of democracy and liberty, the Monticello garden broke with European tradition. The Old World kitchen garden, complex and labor-intensive, was geared to overcome the cool, cloudy northern European climate by bringing fruits and vegetables to maturity out of season, using hotbeds of fermenting manure to harvest asparagus in December or melons in April. The dynamics of this bustling European kitchen garden—its functional architecture of greenhouses, fruit walls, and frame yards, the tools and forcing paraphernalia, and the gardeners themselves—represent the very essence of the art and craft of horticulture (fig. 1.6). Jefferson had observed these gardens during his service as minister to France and in his travels through English gardens in 1786, but he was unimpressed by the inordinate amount of labor required to harvest common vegetables that could be grown so easily at home.</p> <p>The Monticello library was stocked with conventional horticultural wisdom by English kitchen garden writers like Philip Miller, curator of London's Chelsea Physic Garden, and American imitators such as Philadelphia's Bernard McMahon, Jefferson's practical gardening mentor. This Old World horticultural tradition was alive in Virginia and in the young Republic, but not at Monticello. Plantation owners such as George Washington and John Tayloe, two of the wealthiest men in Virginia in 1800, hired professional gardeners to care for old-style kitchen gardens with hotbeds, greenhouses, and, mostly, cool-weather European vegetables. One visitor described the Mount Vernon garden as "well cultivated, perfectly kept, and ... quite in English style" (fig. 1.7). As work reports of the gardeners at such plantations indicate, their role often seemed superficial, focused on grooming and tidying—weeding, mowing, rolling gravel walks, picking weeds from the lawn—fussy jobs probably never attempted at Monticello. "The Englishman prepares his borders while the American digs his holes," wrote one nineteenth-century Virginia horticulturist. The Monticello vegetable garden was much less refined than the English kitchen garden, but Jefferson could grow more vegetables with significantly less skill or labor because the garden's microclimate suited the new, warm-season vegetables and extended the growing season. In addition, Jefferson's garden was all about planting and harvesting, and rarely did he record how crops were cared for. Not only were the horticultural activities—soil preparation, fertilization, staking—more casual at Monticello, but the terraced garden was, in many ways, one big hotbed. Jefferson's vegetable garden was a uniquely pragmatic, and American, experiment in growing vegetables.</p> <p>Few Jefferson biographers have omitted a discussion of the source of Jefferson's intellectual experimentation. According to Dumas Malone, he was a child of the Enlightenment, holding "an abiding conviction that human intelligence can unlock not only the treasure house of the past but also the secrets of the universe, thus leading mankind onward to a richer and better life." This embrace of the scientific method, of observation and definition, "launched itself on a limitless career of intellectual conquest." In a variety of fields, from astronomy to meteorology, from agriculture to paleontology, Jefferson's mind is unveiled as painstakingly precise with an innate passion for measuring, counting, and recording. Eighteenth-century American garden writers such as Williamsburg's Joseph Prentis advocated planting by the phases of the moon, and Colonel Francis Taylor, a planter from nearby Orange County, set out his cabbage plants in the middle of the night by a full moon, a practice Jefferson would have shunned as superstitious.</p> <p>Jefferson's garden diary, or Garden Book, is an enduring expression of Enlightenment thought. Begun at his boyhood home, Shadwell, on March 30, 1766, with the notation "Purple hyacinth begins to bloom," the Garden Book concluded on September 15, 1824, with the completion of his vegetable garden Kalendar and the planting of Winter spinach and Brown Dutch lettuce (fig. 1.8). Sixty-six pages long, bound in leather, and residing today at the Massachusetts Historical Society, this diary reveals Jefferson as a garden scientist. He records how many lima beans would fill a quart jar, which in turn would plant so many feet of row in square VII of the garden, or he observes that six slaves could fill so many wheelbarrows in an hour, daily create 127 yards of a roundabout road, and thereby complete the road in so many months. Jefferson's organizational scheme for the vegetable garden in 1812, dividing the long terrace into "Fruits, Roots, and Leaves," was a reflection of the Enlightenment ideal to neatly categorize the natural world (fig. 1.9). Jefferson's Garden Book is a unique legacy that provides a model of the scientific method at work, written at a time when American horticulture was in its infancy. Fortunately, in 1944, Edwin Morris Betts, a professor of biology at the University of Virginia, assembled Jefferson's gardening diary, relevant letters, and other valuable memoranda into a single volume, <i>Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book</i>.</p> <p>As the Garden Book and his letters show, Jefferson used plants and gardens as a means of relating to friends, family, neighbors, and even political allies. The spring pea competition between Jefferson and his Charlottesville neighbors is a poignant expression of how Jefferson used plants as a vehicle for social intercourse. The Jefferson family tradition held that whoever harvested the first spring pea hosted a community dinner that included a feast on the winning sample of fresh peas. A thread of garden gossip weaves its way through his published correspondence, as Jefferson prefaced letters on the future of the American republic with a discussion of how his gardens fared at Monticello. Vegetable seeds, from the mysterious "sprout kale," which he boasted "no body in the U. S. has," to the rutabaga, a legitimate candidate as a Jefferson American introduction, were tangible tokens of friendship. This was Jefferson's personal garden, but it was also a family garden where he sowed cabbage seed with his daughter Martha; a community garden where he shared harvests and vegetable curiosities with neighbors; a national garden of seeds from the Jefferson-sponsored Lewis and Clark expedition, the Spanish Southwest, and America's finest plantsmen; and an international garden of vegetables from around the globe.</p> <p>Jefferson's horticultural experiments displayed an innocent sense of adventure. He reveled in the promiscuous cross-fertilization resulting from planting Cucurbit varieties and species alongside each other to form new types of squash, cucumbers, and melons. He delighted in odd-colored vegetables, many-headed cabbages, and other curiosities of the vegetable world. Jefferson mixed his planting beds, or "squares," by combining tomatoes with okra, carrots with sesame—culinary companions but lively juxtapositions of plant textures. Flowering beans were trained to climb an arbor along the long walk of the garden as an ornamental flourish. The superlatives he used to describe his favorites attest to this peculiarly unabashed enthusiasm. Whether praising the "long haricot" bean as the "best kind he [Jefferson] has ever seen in this country," the sesame as "among the most valuable acquisitions our country has ever made," or the Cymling squash as "one of our most finest, and most innocent vegetables," this garden was fun, and Jefferson's Garden Book documents one man's wonder at the natural world. Thomas Jefferson was crazy about vegetables.</p> <p>In 1801, Jefferson confessed to his Parisian friend Madame de Tessé that he had "rarely ever planted a flower in my life," and it is doubtful that he toiled manually in the soil planting grape vines or setting out ornamental trees. Nonetheless, Jefferson worked in the vegetable garden with his hands. Jefferson's Garden Book notes about the spacing of seed and the amount allotted to each row suggests, at the least, that he was in the garden. Isaac (Granger) Jefferson, an enslaved blacksmith and tinsmith, recalled in 1847 that "for amusement he [ Jefferson] would work sometimes in the garden for half an hour at a time in right good earnest in the cool of the evening." Margaret Bayard Smith, a friend and chronicler of Washington society, suggested that seeds were sown by Jefferson himself when describing a portable seed rack used at Monticello, "a frame, or stand, consisting of two upright pieces of about two inches thickness, in which were neat little truss hooks. On these were suspended phials of all sizes, tightly corked, and neatly labeled, containing garden seeds, of the smaller kind; those of the larger were in tin canisters. When in his garden this stand could be carried about and placed near him, and if I remember, there must have near a hundred kinds. It is well worthy the adoption of all gentlemen and lady gardeners." Although he is often portrayed as among the more cerebral figures in American history, Jefferson was good with his hands. He not only sowed seeds in the garden, harvested fruit with his grandchildren, and staked out garden beds with a transit and chain, but, according to Isaac, "was neat a hand as ever you see to make keys and locks and small chains, iron and brass."</p> <p>Jefferson never regarded himself as a skilled and polished horticulturist. Even at sixty-eight, he was still a "young gardener" or, as he had written the French botanist André Thöuin, "a zealous Amateur." Jefferson was a student of gardening as much as he was an accomplished practitioner, and the word <i>amateur</i>, deriving from the Latin <i>amo</i>, "I love," captures the spirit of Jefferson's enthusiasms, whether expressed by his grandiose, and at times impractical, vision for the thousand-foot-long terrace or his puppy love for peas. Jefferson's innate curiosity was expressed when he wrote to his daughter Martha, "There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me."</p> <p>Nicholas King, mapmaker for the Lewis and Clark expedition, forwarded kitchen garden seed to Jefferson in 1806, writing that "no person has been more zealous to enrich the United States by the introduction of new and useful vegetables." Nor had any person created a garden so uniquely American in its scale, diversity, composition, and experimental character. Jefferson's vegetable garden, with its scenic panorama, uniquely contrived microclimate, breakthrough collection of vegetables, and pioneering blend of culinary traditions, was something new and revolutionary (fig. 1.10). Ever the garden scientist, Jefferson documented his triumphs and failures over fifty-eight years in his Garden Book, a horticultural diary without parallel in early American garden history. This rich record of one man's horticultural dance with the elements has made possible one of the most accurate garden restorations in America. Today the visitor to Monticello can enter the garden pavilion to look across the rolling Piedmont Virginia countryside or walk through Jefferson's revolutionary garden—down the rows of his favorite Marrowfat peas, tree onions, and Brown Dutch lettuce. The Monticello vegetable garden is a living expression of the genius of Thomas Jefferson and one of the great success stories of his life. </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'>Excerpted from <b>"A Rich Spot of Earth"</b> by <b>PETER J. HATCH</b>. Copyright © 2012 Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. <br/>All rights reserved. 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