Monticello, his home in Virginia, served as his garden laboratory in which he experimented with both successful and failed attempts of growing a variety of introduced vegetables. Jefferson had a 1,000 feet long terraced vegetable garden, an iconic pavilion and an amazing panoramic view of the countryside.
Although he thought slavery was an abominable crime, he was (unfortunately) a lifelong slave owner. So I think it’s important to mention one slave, Wormley Hughes, who was referred to frequently in Jefferson’s garden records. Wormley planted seeds, bulbs and trees and worked closely with Jefferson laying out the flowers bed. I don’t this amazing garden would have been possible without the slaves so they deserve as much if not more recognition that Jefferson.
TJ grew 330 varieties of 89 species of vegetables and herbs, 170 varieties of the finest fruit varieties known at the time which Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens & Grounds at Monticello, calls an “Ellis Island of unusual plants from around the world”. He experimented in this garden with imported squash and broccoli from Italy, figs from France and peppers from Mexico. He grew everything from tomatoes, peas, peppers, spinach, eggplant, sweet potatoes, peanuts, okra, cabbage, lettuce and all in a plethora of varieties. He even recommended planting a thimble full of lettuce seeds every Monday morning from February through September.
He was a seed saver and shared them with neighbors and local farmers with directions on how to grow them. The amazing thing about his terraced vegetable garden was that it was hewed out of the side of the mountain, which created a mini microclimate that allowed him to grow veggies almost all year round.
TJ meticulously documented everything in his Garden Book which was 67 pages of notes by date and tables about his vegetables (how they were planted, when the seeds were sowed, etc.). He also penned the Garden Kalendar, which was published in the American Farmer in 1824. The calendar was a guide on what to plant each month of the year. TJ was truly our Founding Father of organic gardening.
“The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Thomas Jefferson
“Although I’m an old man, I am but a young gardener” Thomas Jefferson – 83 years old
(Photo credits: Top Photo Leonard Phillips/Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Montecito NPR.org. Bottom Photo Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Montecito NPR.org)
(Sources: Monticello.org, NPR.org Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Garden: A Thing of Beauty and Science by Graham Smith, Peter Hatch’s Cornell University video lecture Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden)